by David Cornelius
There’s a very specific target audience for “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.” It’s those who a) don’t notice (or, at least, mind) the very bad production values of a made-for-TV crapper and b) don’t mind (or, at least, notice) seeing the mythology of our leaders instead of, you know, facts. It worries me that there are people out there who will take this film for the gospel truth, although the same can be said by Bushies about the anti-Bush reaction to “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Both films are undeniably propoganda, and yet both films also sit at distant corners of the quality spectrum.If you’re willing to buy the film’s message - that President Bush was the go-to guy on September 11, 2001, to the point of sainthood - then at least look at the shabby quality of the film itself. The movie is populated by actors cast not for their acting talents but for the fact that they kinda look like the people they’re portraying; in this case, “DC 9/11” is on par with, say, the VH-1 original movie “Daydream Believers,” a film about the Monkees which must rank among the very worst TV movies ever made, which should say a lot. These non-actors bungle through their roles, dryly repeating familiar speeches and limply carrying us from scene to scene. (Only one actor, John Cunningham, is believable, but his turn as Donald Rumsfeld is less a performance and more a dead-on impersonation, which is fine for realism but dreadful for dramatic interpretation.)
"When political propaganda meets incompetent filmmaking."
There is one celebrity in the casting mix: George “Sulu” Takei, playing the Secretary of Transportation. It’s a casting choice I don’t get, as this C-list appearance is distracting. We’re right in the thick of the drama, and the movie’s causing the viewer to stop and say, “Hey, it’s that guy!” (Or, in my case, replay the opening scene of “Star Trek VI,” with Takei screaming “Shields! Shields!”)
Oh, and then there’s the fact that Timothy Bottoms is playing Bush. Bottoms, you may recall, played the same character in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s bizarre sitcom “That’s My Bush!,” which cleverly cast the public image of the dopey, inept Dubya as a sitcom dad, complete with sassy maid and kooky neighbor. The series got some heat from people who didn’t get the joke (namely, it wasn’t mocking Bush as much as it was mocking the sitcom formula, although it wasn’t about using the Commander In Chief as the butt of a few biting yuks), but Bottom’s performance was in a sense a dead-on take on Bush’s pre-September 11 reputation. (He also reprised his Bush the Twit role in that “Crocodile Hunter” movie.) The irony of seeing the man who once made Bush look like such a terrible leader now play him in a reenactment of the most famous week of his life is not lost on me, although I believe it is lost on the filmmakers, who don’t realize they’re reminding us that no matter how strong they may try to make him look on September 11, he’s no smarter than he was on September 10.
Now turn to the production values. Wow. Wowee wow wow wow. The film is made on a decent budget (for TV movie standards), but the filmmakers make one hilariously fatal mistake. In an effort to stretch their dollar and make their film seem larger than it is, news footage of actual events is edited into the picture. This includes shots of Bush’s visit to Ground Zero and his speech to Congress on September 20, both lending the film free extras and free set design. Here’s how it works: we see a news clip of Bush, seen from behind; close up on Bottoms as Bush in barely-matching scenery; cut back to news footage; repeat. It is, quite frankly, an embarrassing editing choice, as it actually winds up making the film look cheaper than it actually is. (Watch the moment at Ground Zero, a visual mismatch so off that you can’t help but laugh.)
All of this is enough to make “DC 9/11” a terrible movie. And yet there is more. Here, you see, is where we separate political philosophies, and where the pro-Bush crowd will see a rousing testament to their fearless leader, I, as one of the anti-Bush crowd, see a ludicrous pile of lies, exaggerations, and weak after-the-thought explanations. Here’s a film that, like the Bush re-election campaign, is structured to use 9/11 for political gain. (Which had its own ironies, as others have pointed out before: a campaign built upon an government’s greatest failure. Vote for us! We screwed up big time, and God bless America!)
Anyway. We begin in an early morning policy meeting (which actually happened) that finds Rumsfeld making an eerie, prophetic statement that terrorism must be the Bush administration’s number one priority (which would signal a massive shift in policy, a sign that this scene is one hundred percent, grade A, prime cut horsepuckey). Ignoring all stories after the fact that the administration was ignoring countless warnings of an impending attack, the film begins with a scene that begs us to believe that the Secretary of Defense was demanding an increase in military spending on the sole reason that al Quada is a major threat, and that following the attacks of the previous years, “there’s bound to be more... mark my words.” Was Rumsfeld, then, the only guy that read that certain otherwise ignored memo?
Cut to Florida, with Bush and crew visiting that elementary school. The film tells us he sat in his seat for seven actionless minutes following his being told that “the nation is under attack” for the kids’ sake, a limp excuse repeated by the real Bush team. Assuming this is true - that Bush’s freeze was all so he wouldn’t upset the children with his having to leave - that paints Bush as a man who doesn’t trust kids enough to realize that they’d understand if he stood up and said, “hey kids, something big’s come up, and as president, I gotta go do my job now.” This is the only excuse for his non-actions the Bush crowd has, folks, and while “DC 9/11” buys it, it can’t sell it.
What we discover in the many scenes to follow is that contrary to popular belief, Bush didn’t spend the day flying around in Air Force One out of fear or confusion. No, he was a stand tall chap, a president who demanded to return to the White House to show American strength, only to be repeatedly turned down by devious Secret Service agents. (“If the terrorists want me, they can come get me,” Bottoms’ Bush laughably poses.) We later get a scene in which Bush refuses to sleep in the White House bunker, saying he’s brave enough and man enough to sleep upstairs - with his wife, with whom he has lots of Heterosexual, Missionary Position Sex - and screw you for suggesting he hide in some bunker like a puss. Even the First Lady gets to stand tall; shortly following the attack, Mrs. Bush is seen in a limo declaring to her handlers that “this is a day to stay orderly!” Yes, really.
The film works overtime to debunk every anti-Bush thought on September 11, as well as to paint Bush as the Man With the Plan. Cheney complains about the “myth” that it’s he, not Bush, who’s in charge of the White House; it’s Bush, according to many meetings, who comes up with the top plans; response against Iraq is discussed often, even if an Iraq connection is never mentioned; Saudi links are tossed aside as hokum not wasting valuable investigation time; Guiliani is mentioned only twice, both via phone calls, both refusing to give the slightest hint at the mayor’s fame (and, more importantly, his actual action on that day that made him our de facto president, the guy who actually, you know, showed up). The film is so desperate to show Bush as the Man In Charge that we get such awkward scenes as the one that finds Bush declaring in one policy meeting that “this must never happen to the American people ever again,” followed by Cheney giving a stern nod of understanding, as if Bush just said the most profound this ever - and as if anyone would disagree with that statement.
(The filmmakers also goes out of their way to paint Democrats as hopeless naysayers and hippie losers who want to stand in Bush’s way all for the sake of being jerks. When one Democrat mentions how the cost of preemptive war may be counterproductive to our nation’s struggling economy, the film hints that the question is vile and un-American.)
It should be noted that in order to put the film together, screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd spent several hours interviewing key administration officials, including Bush himself. Using only news footage of public addresses as their only other source, the makers “DC 9/11” turn their film into a strange mix of boring accuracy and absurd self-mythology. The behind-the-scenes stories cannot be believed because there was no attempt to fact check, while the recreations of televised events manage to have an unwilling effect: they make certain key points in Bush’s presidency seem too wrong.
You see, there was a lot of stuff going on that seemed OK at the time, but in hindsight, “OK” is the wrong word. And “DC 9/11” unintentionally brings this into focus. Consider the fact, long forgotten by me (and many others), that Bush used the mourning service at the National Cathedral to make his case for war. Think about that for a moment: a guy turned a funeral in a church into a launch of war. If not sacrilegious, it’s at least tacky.
Then listen to that speech Bush made on September 20. The film recreates it in extreme detail (with one hilarious attempt to express its importance gone all wrong: we keep seeing the crowd at a Flyers hockey game stop to watch the speech, as if hockey fans applauding the president is what made the speech important part of our recent history, but I digress), but in doing so, it reveals that the speech was actually a pretty bad one, awkwardly written and full of nonsensical phrases. Try this out, an actual part of the speech: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” Umm... What the frick does that mean?? You can’t just flip a sentence around to make it profound. Bringing our enemies to justice and bringing justice to our enemies mean the same thing, jackass. “We’ll either get chocolate in our peanut butter or peanut butter in our chocolate, but deliciousness will be done.” Sigh.
The film’s finale is the best part of all, in which Bottoms is replaced mid-speech by the real Bush, in a “What’s Love Got To Do With It” moment. It’s here that the film officially asks for sainthood for Dubya, attempting to bring the audience to its feet with rousing jingoism and blind faith in our leader. It’s the movie’s final show of hubris, and if you didn’t loathe the film yet, you will here. (Unless you’re a Flyers fan, I guess.)The lionization begins, unofficially, much earlier, of course, and I can’t get my mind off of one scene. In it, the President and First Lady are visiting burn victims in New York. One patient looks up at Bush and smiles, telling him, “You will take care of us.” To which Bush replies, “you can count on it!” All that’s missing here is a halo, an angelic choir, and the sound of a million viewers throwing up.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11782&reviewer=392
originally posted: 02/26/05 07:10:30