Death of a President (2006) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but possibly PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Hend Ayoub, Becky Ann Baker, James Urbaniak, Brian Boland, Michael Reilly Burke, Neko Parham, Jay Whittaker, Chavez Ravine, Jay Patterson
Director: Gabriel Range
Screenplay: Gabriel Range, Simon Finch
Review published October 12, 2006
While certainly a controversial movie for its depiction of the possible scenario, as well as its reenactment, of the assassination of George W. Bush on October 19, 2007 (over a year after the release date of the movie), the actual film itself proves to be a bit of a yawner. After over 90 minutes of seriously-presented fictional documentary talking heads and footage, what we finally end up learning is that the Bush administration uses national tragedies in order to secure support in doing what it really wants to do, namely, arouse public fears in the Muslim terrorist threat and beef up the Patriot Act so that it can have the ability to monitor and apprehend whatever individuals and organizations they want. It's difficult to imagine anyone not already in tune with that message bothering to watch this hypothetical documentary, so the most I can muster in terms of my feelings toward it is, "Duh."
It takes about 45 minutes before it gets to the crux of the matter, but in a nutshell, President Bush is assassinated by a sniper, and a Muslim employee who works in the adjacent building is immediately rounded up, detained, questioned, and, despite a complete lack of physical evidence connecting him to the deed, tried for the murder. The government, and in particular new Commander-in-Chief President Cheney's administration puts all their eggs in this one basket and is too heavily invested in implicating this Muslim as the culprit in order to convince Congress and the American Public that the Patriot Act needs even more rights-infringing powers that it never really bothers looking for the person who might actually have been responsible for Bush's death.
If one reads into the film with any amount of depth, one can clearly see that British filmmaker Gabriel Range's concocted doc (it was originally aired on the More4 channel in the UK) shows the modus operandi of the Bush administration, how it scapegoats the wrong targets in order to push forth higher agendas, and how it uses preexisting fears to extract the support it needs to achieve those Machiavellian ends. The entire Iraq War is largely seen as having been built upon that very premise. Range, if nothing else, is successful at getting his message across in the film, but I don't think his project is all that successful enough as a film on its own to merit much attention outside of those who are curious, or those that will like anything provided they agree with its message.
The acting by all of the players in the film is universally solid, although the "documentary" itself doesn't really come close to capturing what might actually happen if there were real footage of Bush being shot and how the media would play that event out, as well as the resulting investigation. Some of the pictures in which the actors' faces are superimposed are convincing, although there is similar news footage where they seem out of place, and some re-dubbed speeches that have that "tampered with" feel that takes you out of the moment to remind you that it's all a facade.
As far as films go, I never really felt as interested or intellectually stimulated as I needed to be for such a provocative premise to truly hit home. At the same time, the message of the film, which is about our civil liberties being continuously compromised as the government is hell-bent on blaming all of the evils of the world on Al Qaeda, never seemed to tell me anything that I hadn't heard from a variety of other sources that use real footage of real events of real people -- it's already happening. My advice to you is to only watch this faux-documentary if you are insatiably curious, because you can see government-sparked scapegoating and your rights eroding on any night of the week by watching the TV news.
©2006 Vince Leo