Written, Produced, and Directed by Dave Hendrickson
Reviewed by Robert Capozzi
Truth may well be stranger than fiction, but it can also be more inspirational as well. Documentary auteur Dave Hendrickson proves just that with his campaign documentary A Remarkable Man.
On the surface, A Remarkable Man shows us a common man doing uncommon things. Ed Thompson, a regular Joe hailing from Wisconsin, lives a colorful yet relatively simple life in Tomah, population somewhere under 10,000. While his brother Tommy was Wisconsin’s governor, Ed prefers to run his supper club, tend to his family, visit senior citizen homes, sponsor Thanksgiving dinners for the community, and be a good, cheerful citizen. Unfortunately for Ed, he made the mistake of paying an undercover agent a $5 refund on a nickel video poker game. He, and other small tavern owners, was subjected to a raid that turned Ed’s world upside down.
Rather than pay a small fine, Ed stood his ground. He demanded to have his day in court. Unfortunately for the prosecution, Ed’s goodwill in the community made it impossible to convict him. Prospective juror after prospective juror told the judge, “No, this is not right. Ed Thompson is good people, and he’s being railroaded.” Charges were dismissed.
This, however, drove Ed to get into politics. While he found the injustice of what was done to him appalling, A Remarkable Man does not present us with an angry firebrand. Instead, Ed draws on his eclectic spiritual views to transcend the politics of division.
Fresh from his brush with the law, Ed throws his hat in the ring for Mayor of Tomah, and wins handily. While Ed’s style is populist, Thompson’s approach is both common sensical and libertarian, meaning smaller government. He cut the city budget by 13% in two years, yet spearheaded a largely self-financing senior center, for example.
Driven by his success as mayor of Tomah, Thompson decided to run for Wisconsin governor. We don’t know what party affiliation Thompson has had in his past, but he tells his friends and advisers that he wishes to run as a Libertarian. It’s all a long shot, and yet Thompson runs mostly on the courage of his conviction and his magnetic personality.
While Thompson doesn’t win, his 10.5% showing makes people in Wisconsin take notice. As one of his advisers says, “We both hate politics. But we both hate injustice.” Thompson rails against corruption and special-interest politics, leading to exit polls that indicated he would have gotten more than 20% of the vote if he was perceived as a candidate who could win.
In recent years, documentaries have become competitive with feature films, such as the works of Michael Moore or the other docu-masterpiece set in Wisconsin, American Movie: The Making of Northwestern. These are generally seamless offerings, with high-quality production values. At times, A Remarkable Man appears to be quite low-budget, featuring grainy home video that Hendrickson somehow makes work. Still, one hopes that Hendrickson’s next project can be funded for more prime-time audiences.
Coming from a world of plain talk, laminate paneling, and Friday night fish fries, Thompson rocked the “ruling class” of Wisconsin. While they prevailed, his head was held high and he maintained a “happy warrior” composure throughout his campaign. Whether A Remarkable Man was a story of political futility or hope is up for the viewer to decide.
What A Remarkable Man does show us is that third-party politics need not be about highfalutin theory spouted by dogmatic ideologues. Ed Thompson is a man of boundless energy and strong community ties who has been, in a sense, “radicalized” by absurd government policy. Yet his campaign is not simply an angry screed; he offered voters a common-sense “third way,” and despite all the odds and a tiny campaign war chest, he was able to make a respectable showing.
One has a difficult time wondering what America would be like if there were more Ed Thompsons among us. This documentary shows us that we may be ready for Thompsonism, a mix of libertarianism and populism that appeals to the best in each and every one of us.
A Remarkable Man is available at
Robert Capozzi is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.