The only roadblock to his political career, we are told, is his wife (Jennifer Connelly), an activist Catholic who helps bring South American political refugees into the states.
"Waking the Dead" leaves a lot of things unexplained - like why a beautiful woman of faith, good works and impeccable lefty credentials would be a handicap for a Chicago Democrat.
Here's what's really strange: She's an obstacle to his political career, and she's not even alive. By the time his candidacy is taking shape, she's been dead for 10 years, assassinated by right-wing Chileans.
Years later, the would-be congressman is haunted by her image and her voice. She serves as his conscience, and pops up to remind him of their youthful commitment to changing the world.
In "Waking the Dead," she's not just her husband's conscience, she's EVERYBODY'S conscience - director Keith Gordon's metaphor for an idealism that he believes we all lost sometime in the 1970s.
See, this dude is like this big sell-out, man, and his old lady is coming back from the grave to tell it like it is. Right on!
Coming from Gordon, the promising director of "A Midnight Clear" and "Mother Night," this movie ranks as a big disappointment. "Waking the Dead" is a movie of simple-minded themes, stiff performances and a muddled narrative that frequently calls for an explanatory voice-over.
Even the supposedly creepy ambiguity of Connelly's character (is she a ghost, or somehow still alive?) is spelled out, rather painfully, in the movie's disastrous final scene.
Apparently, Gordon believes we have lost not only our ideals, but fundamental powers of perception.