Picks and Pans Review: George Wallace
Compared with the historical liberties taken by Oliver Stone in JFK and Nixon, the dramatic license in this miniseries may seem trivial. But writers Paul Monash and Marshall Frady invite criticism by inventing the character of Archie (Clarence Williams III), a black prison trusty who stoically serves as butler to George Wallace (Gary Sinise), the stridently segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate. Although Williams and Sinise have some strong scenes together, we grow suspicious of the way the quiet servant is used as a sounding board for the politician's evolving racial views. When a wheelchair-bound Wallace, two years after surviving an assassination attempt, finally makes a public renunciation of his past bigotry, Archie is conveniently on hand to provide validation and a form of absolution—in case the viewer needs some extra convincing.
This major reservation aside, we recommend the miniseries for the power of Sinise's performance—most evident when Wallace bristles with racist defiance—and for director John Frankenheimer's skill at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of Southern politics. As for the temperature of Wallace's private life, it soars after his first wife, Lurleen (Mare Winning-ham), dies and the younger, sexier Cornelia (Angelina Jolie) becomes Alabama's first lady.