Review: Death of a President
This controversial 2006 Gabriel Range mockumentary certainly has a doozy for a central conceit: The assassination of US President George Dubya Bush (I know, but isn’t it more fun to spell it like that?) and the shocking consequences of this heinous act for all Americans. Unfortunately, the film’s one fascinating idea (a morbid ‘what if?’ scenario) is played out in the film in perhaps the least interesting and least convincing fashion.
The film uses a fake ‘talking heads’ interview style as we listen to White House staff, law enforcement and potential assassins (Or their family members. Of course, one suspect is African-American, one is Middle-Eastern, one of the two also being a soldier) talking about the events leading up to and the aftermath of the incident as President Cheney (AKA The Penguin. Seriously, the guy talks out the side of his mouth) takes over and seems hell-bent on starting WWIII (by targeting Middle Easterners on little hard data and introducing the Patriot Act III). These talking heads, however, are clearly actors, and most are pretty bad ones at that. Particularly unconvincing is the gushing White House speech-writer, the film suffers greatly whenever this ham-fistedly sentimental character is on-screen. But few if any, are in any way credible, and this alone took me out of the whole experience almost immediately (I’ve seen the newspaper reporter guy in films before, his name is Jay Patterson and I’ve definitely seen him in “Places in the Heart” and the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film).
Even worse, the narrative is entirely uninteresting, focussing on the non-eventful, procedural build-up (why?) and the manhunt for the assassin. Who the hell cares what happened before Bush is assassinated? Who the hell cares about a manhunt for a bunch of fake-arse characters anyway? Who thought that this would be interesting? The one really interesting part of the equation here (what would happen to America itself if such a thing were to occur and a vengeance-minded Cheney took over), is the one given shortest shrift. There was massive potential to delve into the notion of there being consequences for acts of violence and terror, but we don’t get much of that. Instead, we get a transparent whodunit, some obvious doctored news footage (including the usage of Cheney’s eulogy at Ronald Reagan’s funeral, now referring to Dubya), a bunch of ‘actory’ interviewees, and no clear political message in either Democratic or Republican favour (check out other reviews for proof. Some call it Bush-bashing, others Bush-pandering. In reality, it’s both and neither). Above all else, we get a film that isn’t worth your time or money, a film with a reputation for being controversial but isn’t as disturbing as it is tedious and entirely artificial. In fact, I would have no problem with the premise if handled well. Here, it’s not). Made for Britain’s Channel 4, the screenplay is by Simon Finch and the director.