Death of a PresidentReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 10/24/06 10:05:38
SCREENED AT THE 2006 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In the United States of America, you are not allowed to threaten the President in any manner. Put in all the second amendments you want about rising against tyranny, the fact remains that a simple joke can have the Secret Service on you in a flash. Itís possible even writing a review of this film could kickstart my FBI profile even if I didnít tell you what itís about. The title is a dead giveaway, excuse the pun, but its not a documentary about the last days of Lincoln or Warren G. Harding, nor even some conservative slant about the legacy of Bill Clinton. No, it refers to our current commander-in-chief, George W. Bush and what would happen if he were to meet an assassinís bullet in October of 2007. Provocative should be capitalized wherever it comes in the sentence describing the hubris filmmaker Gabriel Range has in moving forward on such a project. And if he followed through on any outlook but a fourth-rate murder mystery, he may have really had something here.Tracing the steps up to the fateful moment has a riveting quality to them, partially because we know of the inevitable but also due to the enormous trouble Range has gone through to meticulously create the hours leading to it. The state of our relations in the Middle East havenít changed and North Korea is emerging into a greater focus. President Bush #2 is landing for a economic event in Chicago where protestors have aligned the streets, angrily confronting the war which continues in the Middle East. Using archival footage of Windy City protests, a Bush dinner and the creation of security camera captures, Range intricately fashions a thriller which leads up to a pair of bullets ringing out and the rest, as they say, is history.
Weíre a good 25 minutes into this ďre-creationĒ when the President is rushed to Northwestern hospital and another 15 before he is pronounced dead and Veep Dick Cheney is sworn in. How will this effect our country? What will Cheneyís first move be? Are international relations more tense than ever? These are questions which fall by the wayside as the film gives way into becoming a murder mystery instead of a serious examination of the ramifications of such an event or even a rabid satire of this administrationís hunger for power and world domination. Instead it becomes a lightweight version of Oliver Stoneís JFK without the point of view necessary to inspire anger nor concern.
Breaking down the filmís second half, a viewer is forced to confront not the machinations of how a conspiracy can be used for political expansion but the cheap tactics of trying to connect such a conspiracy in the face of a three suspect lineup not worthy of a Law-and-Order episode. Do we really care WHO the shooter is enough to squarely focus on itís investigation? I was reminded of the film, Identity, in which the mysteryís big revelation reduced to characters to mere figments of a serial killerís imagination and yet still continued on dispatching them as if weíre now expected to root for one to make it out alive. When one of the suspects turns out to be of Arabic dissent, it doesnít take a color-blinded state to begin connecting the dots before our leaders do. Wow, thereís actually pressure to convict THIS guy? For an encore why donít we fashion a lineup with five electricians and a polack and see who has trouble screwing in a light bulb?
This obvious bit of conspiratorial spin becomes the central focus of a film which never calls into question the 2008 election in favor of solving a FICTIONAL murder through last-minute confessions and tenth inning evidence coming to light. The only governmental reaction is apparently to put forth the Patriot Act III: Patriot Harder amendment which comes off neither as a surprise or as some biting commentary on the decline of our individual rights. With the timing of the North Korean nuclear tests in recent weeks, audiences will be considering Rangeís lack of conclusions on the global front seriously hindering any proclamation that this is anything but a snuff film fantasy created by someone who doesnít possess more than a perfunctory knowledge of the assassination tango.Itís amazing that a film so in tune with its own editing would actually fall into the same trappings as the antagonists itís pointing fingers at by snipping the truths right out of the statement. Whereís the dread over the Republicanís chances in í08 translating into the creation of further fear-based initiatives? No public sentiment is explored in reaction to the assassination, possibly in fear that an overreaction by the anti-Bush would dilute what becomes neither a glorification or martyring to appease bi-partisan intransigents. Using actors we recognize (James Urbaniak as the forensics expert and Freaks and Geeksí mom Becky Ann Baker as a Bush adviser) stand out like sore, bloodied, transplanted thumbs and the doctoring of footage to serve a point-of-view becomes the greatest irony of all. Whatever slight of hand is used to circumvent the fictionalization of the event itself is lost whenever the actors are on screen or especially when Cheneyís speech from Reaganís funeral, utilized to eulogize Bush, is left on camera while the Presidentís name is visibly and audibly swapped to more ridiculous, but no less (unintentionally) comic effect than the Cheney/Scarface short film that premiered at Sundance in 2005 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DzHhbZgtfk). Like the puppet some consider Dubya to be, Death of a President shows its strings too often to convince us that the man behind the curtain is truly in control of his convictions.
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