Madman Entertainment

The 16 Political Thrillers You Need To See

We’re mad for TV series, documentaries and films that get a bit political here at Madman. Over the years we’ve never shied away from thought provoking and let’s face it, slightly left of centre stories that explore power relations in the modern world.

Whether you spent too much time partying during your communications degree and want to catch up on some Chomsky or simply want to sit back and watch a compelling chase film starring the who’s who of Hollywood, we reckon we’ve got it covered.

So here they are folks, 16 of our favourites:


Academy Award® winning director Robert Redford directs an amazing cast in this suspense thriller based on the novel by Neil Gordon.
When a former member of the radical protest organisation the Weather Underground (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in to the FBI, Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) an aggressive young journalist, starts searching around for leads on the other members. With an incredible, award-winning ensemble cast including Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Jenkins and Stanley Tucci, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP explores how far you would go for what you believe in and to protect the ones you love.


Outraged by the Vietnam War and racism in America, THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND radical movement waged a low-level war against the U.S. government through much of the 1970s, bombing the Capitol building, breaking Timothy Leary out of prison, and evading one of the largest FBI manhunts in history. This feature-length documentary that explores the rise and fall of this radical movement, as former members speak candidly about the idealistic passion that drove them to “bring the war home” and the trajectory that placed them on the FBI’s most wanted list. This is the group that THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is based on and a great factual primer for the Redford film.


The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House—and changed the face of politics in the process. At the centre of THE WAR ROOM are the two men who guide Clinton’s presidential bid through all of its turmoil: James Carville, who manages the campaign with a mixture of Southern charm and unrelenting passion; and George Stephanopoulos, who, as communications director, calmly but surely mobilizes Clinton’s staff to take the presidency. These two masterminds ingeniously maneuver the campaign past numerous controversies to the final, nail-biting days leading up to the election itself.


From the creator of the US hit HOMELAND. PRISONERS OF WAR begins with the return of three soldiers who had been in captivity for 17 years. Two of them come back alive; one returns in a coffin. During their long years of absence there was no information as to their whereabouts and little is known about what they’ve been through. The series follows the two (and the people closest to them) as they attempt to go back to the lives they were pulled from years ago.

THE GATEKEEPERS:  Limited in-cinema release from September 5th, 2013

THE GATEKEEPERS offers a riveting and intimate insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict told by the six former heads of Shin Bet. In a style reminiscent of The Fog of War, their confessions of torture and terrorism, arrests and assassinations are illustrated with archival footage and chilling animations. These interviews offer a fascinating window into the moral dilemmas of war.

DIRTY WARS: Coming Soon

Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill (author of BLACKWATER: The Rise of the World’s Most Mercenary Army) traces the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command, the most secret fighting force in U.S. history, exposing operations carried out by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. This film has received critical acclaim at film festivals around the country, stay tuned for wider release details.

ACT OF KILLING: In Australian Cinemas from October 3rd,2013

A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. A film that absolutely floored people at film festivals around the country and due for theatrical release late 2013.


Whether Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist and political philosopher is the most important intellectual alive, as the New York Times once famously called him, is open for debate. But without a doubt, Chomsky is one of the most straight-talking and committed dissidents of our time. Chomsky places the terrorist attacks of September 11 in the context of American foreign intervention throughout the postwar decades- in Vietnam, Central America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Beginning with the fundamental principle that the exercise of violence against civilian populations is terror, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a well-organized band of Muslim extremists, or the most powerful state in the world. Chomsky, in stark and uncompromising terms, challenges the United States to apply to its own actions the moral standards it demands of others.


Companion release to POWER & TERROR, MANUFACTURING CONSENT is at times funny, provocative and surprisingly accessible. Based on Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Chomsky argues (pretty effectively) that the mass media of the United States (and by extension the Western World) are “effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”. You’ll never read the Herald-Sun the same way again.


BALIBO is a political drama that tells the true story of crimes that have been covered up for over thirty years. In 1975 as Indonesia prepares to invade the tiny nation of East Timor, five Australian-based journalists go missing. Four weeks later, veteran foreign correspondent Roger East is lured to East Timor by the young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men. As East’s determination to uncover the truth grows, the threat of invasion intensifies and an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who will become President.


In 1950s, the China Republic Government has been newly established. 701 Bureau is the new “CIA” of operations and vigilantly monitor the airwaves for the many coded transmissions between enemy spies. An espionage thriller set in the 1950s and adapted from the novel “Year Suan/Plot Against” by May Jia. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays a blind man who works for a piano tuner. He is recruited for a spy mission because of his exceptional hearing.


Nicknamed “The Sheriff of Wall Street,” when he was NY’s Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer prosecuted crimes by America’s largest financial institutions and some of the most powerful executives in the country. After his election as Governor, with the largest margin in the state’s history, many believed Spitzer was on his way to becoming the nation’s first Jewish President.
Then, shockingly, Spitzer’s meteoric rise turned into a precipitous fall when the New York Times revealed that Spitzer – the paragon of rectitude – had been caught seeing prostitutes. Directed by Academy-Award® winner Alex Gibney (SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD: MEA MAXIMA CULPA).


In 1985, South Africa burns as the vile Apartheid regime reaches breaking point. In the months leading up to this historic moment, a group of men hold secret talks to bring about peace and democracy to the nation. Under constant threat and fearful for their lives, a gathering of ANC “terrorists” led by Thabo Mbeki and key Afrikaner representatives meet in a manor house in England. Through volatile discussions, setbacks and breakthroughs, the secret talks in Britain become a precious arena for airing opinions, arguing consequences and developing a frail trust between two archenemies.


When the popular Greens party vows to abolish oil drilling in Greenland, the citizens take notice, voting them in in a landslide victory. But only months after taking office, the Greens pull a complete backflip, and the citizens are furious. One political activist takes it upon himself to make the government pay for their lies.  Stars LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED and A ROYAL AFFAIR’S  Trine Dyrholm alongside THE KILLING’s Nikolaj Lie Kaas and THE BRIDGE and PUSHER TRILOGY’s Kim Bodnia.


Over one hundred prisoners have died in suspicious circumstances in U.S. custody during the “war on terror”. TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE takes an in-depth look at one case: an Afghan taxi driver called Dilawar. The film documents how the former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, together with the White House legal team, were able to convince Congress to approve the use of torture against prisoners of war. Heavy stuff, but essential viewing if you want to understand the bureaucracy that deems torture permissible in our so-called civilized society. This film won the 2008 Academy Award for the Best Documentary Feature.


Staring Peter Capaldi, (the new Doctor Who!) and James Gandolfini ( Sopranos) we thought we’d end this list on an upbeat note. IN THE LOOP is a brilliant satirical black comedy directed by Armando Iannucci as a spin-off from the award-winning BBC Television series The Thick of It. The film satirizes Anglo-American politics in the 21st century and the Invasion of Iraq. It was nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) and it has some brutal and hilarious one liners.

So, that’s the list of our favourite politically charged films, as chosen by Madman staff. What do you think? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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