Death of a President bills itself as a thriller, but it got known first as the movie that shows George Bush being killed. No, no, the producers declared as some in the media protested before the movie was released. It’s not some cheap, sensationalistic revenge movie for rage-addled Liberals, said the producers. It’s about bigger issues.
Too bad, because it’s got nothing interesting to say about the bigger issues.
It is certainly true that the movie doesn’t dwell on the actual shooting of Bush. Since the entire movie pretends to be a documentary made a few years after the event, you see some chaotic video of “Bush” crumpling as he’s shaking hands in a crowd. That’s all. And yet, the movie’s premise is that Bush is an awful president who has brought us to the brink of totalitarianism. Nothing good comes from the assassination, so it clearly isn’t a call to arms. But it is an anti-Bush movie. That makes the fantasy of Bush’s death disturbing in the wrong way.
After Bush is killed, we learn that the Patriot III Act was quickly passed, further limiting our rights. But, unlike the underrated movie The Siege, the movie’s not interested in following the consequences of those limitations. In fact, we barely learn what they are. And a Syrian is arrested and falsely accused of the crime. The movie makes it clear that the system was stacked against him because he was a Syrian. Except that this is a Syrian living in America who, a few years earlier, accidentally (!) happened to go for terrorist training in Pakistan…which vitiates the theme that we’d take any Arab as the bad guy.
It took me three nights of viewing to get through the movie, so I guess that doesn’t make it much of a thriller. My favorite part were the interviews with the filmmakers in which we learn that the Chicago demonstration consisted of footage of a real protest march and some staged scenes.
I have to say that I was also bothered by the fact that although this is told entirely as a documentary, with interviews with “participants” and news reelish footage of the “events,” it is not a documentary that actually would have been made after the assassination, for it explains things that wouldn’t have needed explaining, and relies on a sense of suspense that no one would have had. It’s as if a documentary were made after JFK’s assassination that depended on viewers not knowing if he’d be assassinated while addressing the crowd or driving in the car.
I’ve seen worse movies for sure. But I’ve seen a lot better. (Disclosure: The film’s publicists sent me a free copy of the DVD. Thanks.)
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