The political thriller genre is an interesting take in understanding real-life politics and their long-term implications. Argo winning the Best Picture at the Oscars in 2012, followed by the success of films like Zero Dark Thirty and The Report, further prove the relevance and marketability of this genre.
Apart from dramatizing real-life operations or global affairs, such films also present a picture of the balance of power and the challenges that governments or militaries can inflict upon a country’s citizens. The fast-paced sequence of events in such thrillers further boosts adrenaline for the viewers.
10 Syriana (2005) – 73%
Syriana extensively covers the power play that dominates geopolitics in the Middle East. An oil company’s analyst, a CIA “scapegoat,” a local emir prince, and a group of construction workers seem to cross their paths as dark secrets are revealed about America’s relationship with its oil-supplying partners.
There’s a lot to comprehend in the film’s multi-layered narrative, but the patience pays off with an alarmingly believable third act. Syriana also serves as a warning, signaling the disastrous impact a country’s economic hegemony can have on the rest of the world.
9 V For Vendetta (2005) – 73%
Based on the iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore, V For Vendetta is a dystopian thriller set in a totalitarian Britain. V, a mask-wearing vigilante indulges in anarchical activities to topple the government, as he seeks a vendetta for himself as well as the working class.
He’s joined by a woman who helps him in his quest to achieve what he feels is justice. The film boasts of a stellar turn as the lead by Hugo Weaving, as well as quotable dialogue that still seems to be relatable whenever an extremist government reigns any part of the world.
8 Munich (2005) – 78%
The 1972 Munich Olympics were attacked by the Palestine Liberation Organization, a terrorist outfit that ended up killing and abducting a few Israeli sportspersons. Enraged and wanting retaliation, the Israeli government ordered Mossad operatives to carry out Operation Wrath of God to identify and neutralize the ones behind this attack.
Munich is an attempt to understand the trials and tribulations of these operatives as they tirelessly attempt to discover their targets. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars an ensemble cast including Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, and Geoffrey Rush.
7 The Constant Gardener (2005) – 83%
A British diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) and an Amnesty activist (Rachel Weisz) fall in love with each other, residing in Kenya for their own work. However, when the activist chances upon sensitive information about a pharmaceutical company’s malpractices in Africa, she loses her life.
The diplomat embarks on a quest for revenge, determined to find out the perpetrators at all costs. Shifting through flashbacks and suspenseful mysteries, The Constant Gardener effortlessly blends the genres of romantic drama and political thriller.
6 The Report (2019) – 82%
Post 9/11, the CIA set out to identify potential terrorist threats from dominantly Islamic countries. As also shown in movies like Zero Dark Thirty, the intelligence agency resorted to using new methods of torture for this purpose. This measure, however, could also be misused, leading to the deaths of innocent civilians.
The Report details the real-life research of FBI operative Dan Jones (Adam Driver) who curates his disturbing findings into a parliamentary report that exposed several violations of universal justice and basic human rights.
5 The Ides Of March (2011) – 83%
The Ides of March is a well-acted drama that lives up to its Shakesperean title, presenting a story of backstabbing in the world of American politics. George Clooney stars as a charming Democrat Presidential candidate, along with Ryan Gosling who plays his equally charming press secretary.
Even though the secretary is loyally committed to the ideals of the campaign, he chances upon some dirty secrets after a sexual encounter with an intern. Also written and directed by Clooney, the film has enough real-life drama and deadpan humor to attract viewers.
4 Zero Dark Thirty (2012) – 91%
The dramatization of the real-life manhunt for terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty has had its fair share of criticism around its torture scenes. Some saw it as a brutally honest exposition of CIA’s torture practices, while others saw it as pro-torture agenda. Still, the film has been praised by many for its tense atmosphere and Jessica Chastain’s impressive lead performance.
Rather than typical hypermasculine narratives of jingoistic patriotism, Chastain’s intelligence analyst Maya heralds the arrival of believable and logical protagonists in political thrillers. The technical aspects of the film are also top-notch ranging from sound editing to cinematography. For her direction, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win a Director Oscar.
3 Z (1969) – 93%
During the 1960s, Greece was enduring a brutal regime under a military junta. Democratic leaders and activists were being murdered by the state, and dissenting voices were being clamped down. It’s under such pressure that writer-director Costa-Gravas helmed the creation of Z, a French-Algerian production that aptly captures his angst and outrage at the time.
The plot features a magistrate’s efforts in revealing the state and military’s hand in the assassination of a popular political leader. The thriller’s impact was shared by the rest of the world, with parallels drawn with anti-drafting protests during the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers Movement, etc.
2 All The President’s Men (1976) – 94%
Heavily inspired by the real-life journalists who broke the news around the Watergate scandal, All The President’s Men is an essential film for those interested in movies about politics and journalism.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as they investigate the scandal for The Washington Post. The film evokes themes of paranoia and courage in a questionable democratic regime under former President Richard Nixon as questions of a free press and unchecked political dominance are touched upon.
1 Argo (2012) – 96%
Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, Argo details the rescue operations under CIA operative Tony Mendez to rescue American diplomats trapped in Iran as a revolution commenced in the Asian country in the 1970s. Mendez (Affleck) gathers a team of agents who pose as the crew for an ambitious sci-fi fantasy flick called Argo.
With a compelling storyline and gripping tension, the film drew rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Barring a few historical inaccuracies, Argo does justice to its “larger-than-life” true story.
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