A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Bob Roberts" isn't simply another satire about slimy political schemes.
It's a satire about a whole mindset, about the anything-goes greed of the 1980s, when decent American values were replaced by the cold cynicism of management experts. The bottom line became the only line. Winning was everything. The self-promotion spawned by the aggressive new M.B.A. programs made business into a new kind of jungle - one where the animals ate even when they weren't hungry.
Bob Roberts, the hero of Tim Robbins' new film, is a "populist" candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania. He's a self-made millionaire who sings folk songs to his audiences, songs with titles like "The Times They are a-Changin' Back." For him, as for others, populism no longer means the solidarity of the working class, it means its division - race against race, worker against worker, with hate being stirred up to obscure the real enemy, the profit-takers who are raping the companies and leaving them stripped and dead.
Roberts, played by Robbins, is a tall, open-faced man with an infectious grin that can turn, in an instant, into a mask of anger. His message to his supporters is that greed is good. From certain angles, in a certain light, he looks uncannily like another two-faced populist, Citizen Kane. His opponent is a weary old liberal senator named Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal), whose message seems irrelevant. Voters don't want to hear about right or wrong. They have one question: What's in it for me? The movie is shot as if it were a documentary. The cameras are sometimes on when they're not supposed to be. We eavesdrop on conversations we're not meant to hear. We begin to understand the sinister implications of the Bob Roberts campaign. His campaign bus isn't just a headquarters, it's a trading center; he's got brokers buying and selling day and night. His connections are unsavory. There are rumors about arms deals and savings and loans scandals. His campaign manager (Alan Rickman) is a study in realpolitik: Anything is justified if it will win votes. There is even an attack on poor old Paiste for dating teenage girls. There are photos for proof.