If you are one of those people who believe House Speaker Mike Madigan is the root of all Illinois’ problems, then I’ve just seen the perfect movie for you.

“Madigan: Power, privilege, politics” starts with the premise that Illinois has gone down the crapper over the past 40 years, and that the one constant during that time is Madigan holding political power, ergo it must be his fault.

This is a point of view that has taken hold in recent years after being pushed relentlessly through millions of dollars in political advertising from Gov. Bruce Rauner and the editorial page of the state’s largest newspaper.

But for some reason Rauner’s friends at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute thought they could make an even more convincing case if they produced an hourlong propaganda film about Madigan and called it a “documentary.”


So they hired John Papola, an “award-winning documentary filmmaker” from Texas who hails from the East Coast and probably couldn’t find Springfield without Google Maps. Papola then made a movie channeling the exact narrative that Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute embrace.

To be exact, the film is funded by Illinois Policy Action, the advocacy arm of Illinois Policy Institute, which is a distinction without a difference.

Austin Berg, a sharp young writer for the Policy Institute, wrote the movie script and served as a consultant, steering Papola to his interview subjects.

Berg assured me after Tuesday’s screening at the Siskel Center that the movie was financed by the organization’s “thousands of contributors,” not any particular billionaire.

But Papola swears he took a journalistic approach and had final creative control. As far as adopting the Policy Institute’s point of view of Madigan, Papola said he didn’t see how anyone could hold any other opinion after reviewing the facts — that were spoonfed to him by the Policy Institute.

As part of the journalistic approach, the film’s creators have produced “branded” soda cups and popcorn containers bearing Madigan’s likeness with a crown perched atop his head.

Cups | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Popcorn bags feature House Speaker Mike Madigan, with a crown on his head. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

To remind you, I also look forward to Madigan’s passing from the Illinois political scene, as long as Rauner leaves first.

But the notion that Madigan has been the primary cause of our state’s decline is so laughably simplistic that I wonder how people convince themselves of these things.

As far as the movie itself, it’s really not all that bad, as long as you keep in mind that it’s purpose is to manipulate you.

It’s a must-see for anybody involved in Illinois politics, although I don’t think they’ll learn much they didn’t already know.

As with any well-made documentary or propaganda film, the movie relies on legitimate interviews with credible people to make its point, using them to explain Madigan’s career, rise to political power through the patronage system and how he has used redistricting to his advantage to maintain that power.

These include interviews with CapitolFax analyst Rich Miller, former alderman Dick Simpson, ex-Republican legislator Steve Rauschenberger and Tribune columnist John Kass. I can’t remember anything they say in the movie with which I would strongly disagree.

Then there are people I would regard with greater skepticism, such as Jason Gonzales, the opportunist who moved into Madigan’s legislative district so he could run against him; Rep. Ken Dunkin, a Democrat who sided with Rauner and was ousted in the primary for his trouble; and Robert Blagojevich, more believable in his previous role as our ex-governor’s hapless but slightly more principled brother.

These interviews are conveniently stitched together with conclusory statements from the narrator pinning the state’s problems on Madigan.

“Madigan” is premiering this week in one-night stands at very select movie theaters across Illinois. The movie will also be available for online viewing at some point.

The film is completely on target in at least one respect: Mike Madigan is a fascinating subject.