17 April 2007

Death of a President

Directed by: Gabriel Range
Written by: Simon Finch & Gabriel Range

Grade: C+

Because it's an account of the hypothetical assassination of sitting-President George W. Bush, Death of a President inspired some manufactured controversy upon its release . Banned from theaters across the U.S. before it was even released, it's clear that none of the censors even took the time to actually watch the damn thing. The filmmakers clearly anticipated many of the obvious criticisms and went out of their way to avert them...and then went out of their way to avoid offending anyone they might have offended by trying not to offend anyone. The final product is a pointless, mildly offensive film that tries so hard to be neutral that it leans to the right.

In October 2007, the film makes believe, Mr. Bush was giving a speech to a group of small-business leaders in Chicago and, all along his motorcade route, of course, he was met by crowds of protestors. Though the actors-playing-talking-heads carefully and incessantly note that free assembly is a protected constitutional right, the protestors are portrayed as 10,000 riot-inciting anarchists, both violent and senseless. Bush, however, solid as a rock, according to his adoring speech-writer, calmly sits in his stalled and threatened limosuine. "I respect their opinions," she recalls him saying, "I just wish they would demonstrate peacefully." That George Bush, the last reasonable man on Earth!

(The protestors are then even accused of being against the troops, as one interviewed veteran who didn't march notes of them, "those people don't look at us as heroes.")

Following the speech, Bush is shot by an assassin in a neighboring high-rise. He is rushed to the hospital where, during a brief press conference, we're told that though the President is in critical condition, "the doctor says he's never seen such a strong heart on a man the president's age." All right, that's enough. But it then goes so far as to present President Cheney—a phrase with a spine-chilling ring—as another man of sober reason. "Hey, I know you're busy," he is said to have told the investigating FBI agent, "just look into this suspect you've got a little closer, please, you know, if you can."

The first half-hour, despite all its bullshit politics and glowing portraits of all the wrong people, is not only visually convincing but grippingly tense. The mixture of different film stocks, combining footage from security cameras, shaky digital handhelds, and actual speeches—all laced, when necessary, with digital effects—lends it a remarkable verissimilitude. My roommate wandered into the living room a few minutes after I'd put it on and, not knowing what I was watching, jumped when Bush got hit: "Oh! I didn't know any of this happened, that someone took a shot at Bush!"

But as it goes on it loses steam, thanks in no small part to its introduction of a lot of caricatures and stereotypes, including a black, unemployed vet in standard issue down-on-his-luck wear. ("Hey could we interview you for a documentary?" "Sure, let me put my hobo clothes on.") It becomes a bland investigation into the killing, a soporific procedural that leaves you wondering what the moral of the story is. Why take a politically soaked issue and wring it of all politics except a few cheap shots? Why make a movie if you've got nothing to say? If George Bush were really assassinated in October 07, this would be a pretty poor document of the event and the subsequent investigation, barely worthy of the History Channel. The fact that it's made-up makes it inexcusably useless.

So, did the Arabs do it? Cos if they didn't, I bet it was the blacks. (Actually, I'd suspect a Karl Rove publicity stunt.) In its last reel it attempts to give itself some anti-war credibility, albeit in a magnetic yellow ribbon kind of way, but it's an ineffective critique. Exhausted and worn-out by that point, the film still finds the energy to take a swipe at Cindy Sheehan. I mean, really, what is this movie's fucking problem?

The only possible explanation I can come up with is that Gabriel Range lost his mind and started to believe he was documenting a true story; he even puts up titles before the end-credits to let us know where everyone in the film is today. Uh, buddy, that's enough already. Just like his apparent hero George Bush, I think he started to actually believe his own bullshit.

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