Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer


Biography / Documentary / Drama

IMDb Rating 7.3 10 1337

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by BandSAboutMovies 8 / 10


I was 15 years old when R. Budd Dwyer killed himself on live TV. Many stations refused to show the full footage, like KDKA, WPXI in Pittsburgh broadcast the footage uncensored on an early newscast, as they believed that kids wouldn't be home to see it. That said - there was a snowstorm so many of us were home early. Many kids reacted just like they did to the Challenger crash, with dark humor being the only way to deal with it. I've since learned that a study of the incidence of the jokes showed that they were told only in areas where stations showed the uncensored footage.

Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer attempts to tell the story behind the man who killed himself with a .357 Magnum after being implicated in a scandal with Computer Technology Associates (CTA)

The Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dwyer had run as a common man from a small town and throughout this documentary, this fact - and the feeling that he let down his hometown and the people that believed in him - is drummed home.

Everyone has a side to their story in this, including the last interview filmed with his wife before she died and his children. There's also some incredible scenes William T. Smith, the person whose testimony convicted Dwyer. I wonder how much of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul character of James Morgan "Jimmy" McGill/Saul Goodman is based on this guy. He really seems to be a real-life Bob Odenkirk character.

This is a balanced documentary that really lets you come to your own conclusion. Sadly, I feel like politics have only gotten worse since Dwyer's death.

The film also impacted me because Dwyer was often at the center of tape trading in the days before the internet. I'm a big fan of sites like the Found Footage Festival, who recently discussed with David Cross how he started trading tapes. My history of video mix tapes is similar - there was always someone who had a VHS tape at a party that had something you had only heard of. There were things like Pastor Gas, where televangelist Robert Tilton was overdubbed with fart noises. There was always Faces of Death. And there was always grainy footage of R. Budd Dwyer ending his life on live television.

We became desensitized to it. As each progressive generational dub was made, the footage became as hard to see as our morals. There was always a race to find the next crazy thing, to see something we shouldn't see. At that time, there was just a strange subculture that wanted to own these moments. I'm not saying that everyone wanted to see extreme things. But the majority of mixtapes were often chock full of things like this.

Watching this film, I remembered seeing Dwyer more times than I'd like to think. And the suicide has reverberated throughout pop culture, inspiring songs like Marilyn Manson's "Get Your Gunn" (complete with a sample of Dwyer's voice), Kreator's "Karmic Wheel" and Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot."

This film made me think about my ethics and about tape trading before the internet blew finding a clip wife open. And most importantly, it made reconsider a man that I've always thought was guilty and took the coward's way out because his back was to the wall. Trust me - it's not as simple as that.

Reviewed by Mr-Fusion 7 / 10

Does what it set out to do: sheds light on the man, not just the spectacle

Were it not for the infamous news footage of R. Budd Dwyer's public suicide, this man would certainly never have crossed my radar. That footage is all over the internet, and its enduring popularity is due mostly to shock at what our media will dare to show (a man blowing his brains out was actually televised in 1987). But it gives no indication or insight into the man at the center of the controversy. So from that standpoint, "Honest Man" is a welcome examination of the man, himself.

And it is a surprisingly touching, discreet and (most importantly) informative documentary. To hear the interviewees tell it, Dwyer was a real man of the people, religiously devoted to his family and honest to a fault (perhaps naively). He really seems like a good guy, politician or not, and maintained his own brand of likability. I guess you could call this one-sided, or just a tribute ... but in the end, it's still far more than this country ever did know about him.

But discretion only lasts so long here, and I was pretty disappointed that the movie included the incident. They did such a good job of portending what was coming, that they could've cut as soon as he raised the gun. The implication was all that was needed. But they decided to let us see the gunshot, and linger on his slumped (and bloodied) corpse. It's not graphic footage, so much as surprising, but in this case it is gratuitous. I wish they didn't show it.

And hearing the TV producer's specious justification for airing the footage (equating it with our current sensationalist cable news) truly made me feel dirty for having sought out this footage on YouTube years ago, because there was a real human being who let the incident do the talking for his legacy. Dwyer mentions in the press conference that he hopes to be remembered for something else, other than the CTA scandal - and dark though this is, he got his wish.

But I do feel that I've gotten a clearer picture about who R. Budd Dwyer was, and for that this documentary is a winner.


Reviewed by StevePulaski 8 / 10

All things sensational have context

Every viral video or sensational clip that receives airplay or notoriety has a backstory, and Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer is a documentary that works to add context to one of the most famous suicides ever captured on video. On January 22, 1987, Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, after being found guilty of accepting bribes from a Californian accounting firm, called a press conference before numerous officials and journalists. He was presumably going to announce his resignation, as his sentencing was scheduled to take place the next day. Following a four minute speech about his wife, kids, his innocence, and his legacy as Treasurer, Dwyer pulled a .357 revolver from a manila envelope, pointed it in his mouth, and shot himself, dropping dead instantly having broadcast his suicide to numerous Television stations.

One of the most tragic things about Dwyer's case is that what he did, or allegedly did, while in office, is something that is more-or-less legal in state and federal government today. Accepting bribes, or "political donations," isn't uncommon and since the dawn of Citizens United, is something that special interest groups and lobbyists have been doing in excess. Honest Man works to tell Dwyer's side of the story, which has been shortchanged to the extreme act itself.

Dwyer's wife, children, and colleagues all appear in the documentary and recount his life and the case that eventually engulfed his life. Dwyer studied political science and accounting in college, eventually running for the general assembly when he graduated. Roy Wilt, a colleague and a legislator, comments how politics was who Budd was and how it took over his life as soon as he began running for the assembly. He goes on to say how Budd would never look at the donators who graciously gave money to his campaign, nor could he ever bring himself to ask for money. While intelligent and crafty, he was extraordinarily humble, especially for a politician.

Controversy began to plague his career once he became Pennsylvania's state Treasurer. When Dwyer wouldn't approve of state Governor Dick Thornburgh's wife's plane ticket as a business expenditure, he saw himself on the oust with the Governor. Right then and there, from the perspective of some, Dwyer seemed stubborn as a mule and somebody who was willing to fight over the smallest circumstances. Following this, Pennsylvania discovered that its state workers had grossly overpaid in their federal taxes because of the state withholding funds. This, in turn, led to dozens of accounting firms vying for a multimillion-dollar settlement contract in order to compensate each employee for the amount they overpaid. In 1986, Dwyer allegedly received a bribe from a California accounting firm that was trying to obtain the lofty contract, to which he plead not guilty to, wouldn't agree to a plea bargain, and stood trial in the case.

The main witness to Dwyer's act of taking the bribe, William Smith, even admits to lying under oath in the documentary, saying Dwyer took the bribe during a false testimony. Smith admits here that he is, as a result, responsible for Dwyer's subsequent suicide.

Dwyer's charisma and almost blue-collar, everyman charm is seen through each piece of archival footage shown in the documentary. He was a man of many commonalities, who in and of himself, didn't seem to have any interest in unethical dealings. During his famous final press conference, it was almost as if Dwyer couldn't believe he was in this situation; he seemed shocked, almost like a deer in headlights, as if he had no idea how he found himself in this situation and was more-or-less forced into it.

The death of Dwyer is one of the most bizarre but saddening political tragedies I have yet to read of, and Honest Man does a solid job at detailing it. It's a case that found itself captured in a whirlwind of hearsay and miscalculation that led to the death of an arguably innocent man. Dwyer's surviving children explain in the film not only their reactions to their father's suicide at the time, but how, despite the suicide video's ubiquitous presence online, this kind of thing could happen again. Dwyer's widow, Joanne Dwyer, who died a year before the release of this film, nicely states how we live in a society obsessed with violence, and in this case, violence without much regard to context or history. Both her and her children state how the impact of Dwyer as a political figure and his legacy have, as a result, taken a backseat to the sensationalism and act of his suicide. They're not wrong, and it's depressing to see a story where a sympathetic, and quite possibly innocent, politician has fallen on deaf ears in present time.

Directed by: James Dirschberger.

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