Movie review: Death of a President (DOAP)
To be released October 27th
I’m sure the idea of Death of a President, an imagining of the assassination of President Bush, had some on the left sporting a chubby. In the execution, however, the fake documentary is far less incendiary, and to it’s credit, far more measured. That’s probably going to displease the rabid on both sides of the American political system, yet it makes for a more interesting work.
The scenario is that late into Bush’s term, his final months as President, someone fires a long distance shot as he leaves the Chicago convention center. What follows is sober speculative fiction displayed in a somber PBS prime time format. There are three suspects, a shifty eyed environmental activist, an African American Iraq II vet, and a Muslim man, each having their own reason for being on our government’s de facto watch list. Fake journalists, fake family members, fake FBI agents, and fake White House employees are interviewed for the fake documentary. For the story to sell as meta-reality, the acting has to be seamless, and that’s part of the success of the film. The film makers edit fiction into reality (in the form of actual news footage) equally as seamlessly, and it’s only the special effects, the “Gumping” of the fictional characters into the real footage, that let on we’re watching fiction.
One might expect a film touting as it’s central plot twist the assassination of President Bush a work with a sharp axe and a heavy hammer. That isn’t the case. Bush and the Republicans are treated fairly, not at all caricatured. It’s a fair treatment as one would expect from a news report on a Presidential assassination. The film isn’t an attack on Bush, though it is a condemnation of his policies. We learn this through the agony of two of the suspects. The wife of the Muslim man expresses what people like Robert Fisk tell us is the view of the moderate Muslim in the middle east, worrying how their religion, their world is perceived, usually unfairly, by the West as a result of 9/11. They’re as upset about the terrorism as we are, but, perhaps you all brought this on your heads, just a little. With this thought in their heads, perhaps there’s just something to the zealotous proselytizing by the fundamentalist Muslims.
The African American soldier speaks to the war in Iraq. Why were we really there? What did we accomplish? Why did our brothers and sisters die there? We understand Afghanistan, but why Iraq? His situation also slyly addresses the leavings of the Patriot Act and the already problematic situation of racial profiling which that Act exacerbates.
This film won the International Critic’s prize at the recent Toronto Film Festival. It’s surprising considering the competition, however not so surprising considering the subject matter (and Michael Moore’s Cannes victory a couple years ago). It takes on a daring task that’s well executed, however not particularly compelling either as drama or agitprop. Perhaps it’s all the more daring that the film is not the incendiary piece that was Fahrenheit 9/11. However Moore’s film left an indelible mark on America and threatened to play some role in a Presidential election. Death of a President is so deliberate a film it may well slowly fade in the memory or pass without notice.