STRONG ACTING CAN'T RESCUE DULL 'DEAL'.
"The Deal" is kind of the art-house version of "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" -- a low-budget sequel that jettisons its principal character in favor of a scene-stealing supporting character.
What we have here is a prequel, of sorts, to Oscar contender "The Queen," from the same director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Peter Morgan) and again starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. (In fact, "The Deal" was produced in 2003 and was brought here, no doubt, due to the success of "The Queen.")
This film concerns Blair's machinations to became prime minister of Britain in the first place, cajoling the Labour Party's favorite son and his longtime friend, Gordon Brown (David Morrissey), to be the party's candidate in 1994.
Blair promised to support Brown when he decided to step down, which he did earlier this year, being wildly unpopular due to his support of George Bush's war with Iraq. And, in fact, Brown is prime minister today.
While "The Queen" mined territory that resonated with the whole world -- Elizabeth II's reaction to the untimely death of Princess Diana -- "The Deal" examines arcane British political theory, considerably less compelling subject matter for a drama.
In an HBO film earlier this year, "Longford," Morgan transformed an even more obscure piece of British political history (to U.S. viewers, at least) into genuinely compelling drama.
Here, despite solid performances from Sheen and Morrissey, "The Deal" feels vaguely medicinal, a politically correct history lesson with an occasionally satisfying epigram.
David Kronke, (818) 713-3638
THE DEAL - Two stars
>What: Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan, who gave us "The Queen," examine how Tony Blair rose to power in England.
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 1 p.m. Friday and 11 p.m. Nov. 21.
In a nutshell: Terrific performances, medicinal message.