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Movie Review: Death of a President

Death of a President
Directed by Gabriel Range
Written by Range and Simon Finch

After watching the much talked-about film of the Toronto Film Festival at Manhattan’s Angelika Film Center, a woman from “Swiss Radio” randomly found me coming out of the auditorium and asked, “What did you think of the film?”

“Well,” I said, “I didn’t really like it.  I didn’t think it was all that compelling.”

“Why did you come see it?” she asked.

“Well, there was all this controversy and talk about the movie, and I figured I’d see for myself.”

“Were you offended?”

“No, not really.  I didn’t think they made a big deal out of the killing, I didn’t really find it all that exploitative.”

In return, I got a puzzled look and she went on to another customer.  Either she didn’t know what “exploitative” meant or she thought I was crazy for thinking this film wasn’t exploitative.  Of course, that’s not what I said; I said it wasn’t all that exploitative.

Make no mistake, the title alone is exploitative.  It plays on half the country’s wish for President Bush to be out of office, it plays on another, secretive segment of the population that wishes the title would turn to prophecy.  At the very least, it exploits that wish for profit. 

But what filmmaker Gabriel Range could have done was make a film that used an assassination as some form of catharsis; like a video game that gives us blood and gore, we could have seen multiple angles and some attorney explaining three hundred times that the President’s head went back, and to the left, while we see Bush’s head explode or chest erupt and for one final stab at his notorious intellect, froze the screen on some dumb, pained expression.

And for those who would like to see the Prez killed: introducing the forty-fourth president of the United States, Dick Cheney everyone.

Now, to the matter at hand.  The movie is a pseudo-documentary concerning a 2007 visit to Chicago, where protestors have evolved to angry, militant lawbreakers.  Fake security forces and fake Bush workers are interviewed about the day, October 19, 2007.  He makes a speech, then he goes to his hotel and meets and greets, and is shot.  Don’t worry, the movie barely shows us the event–it’s about as clear as Hinckley’s shots on Reagan or Ruby’s hit on Oswald.

So then, the focus is on whodunnit, with obvious political messages tacked on.  It’s either the “crazy environmentalist” or, as the investigation concludes on extremely sorry evidence, a Syrian-born man with no concrete ties to terror, who is convicted, and is used as an excuse to wage war on Syria.  The movie also pays attention to an African-American soldier whose brother died in Iraq and whose family has been torn apart.

Ultimately, the movie is really boring, and could have been more sensational, but what upsets me the most about the movie is that it has no well-thought point-of-view on the future that is a year from now.  “President Cheney” is something that could have been an interesting view, but it’s ignored for the most part.  The fact that there’s only one angle of the President getting shot is not only wrong in the not-so-distant 2007, but the very age we live in. 

And documentaries are usually a hell of a lot more riveting, especially on this kind of subject matter.  Documentaries, though shot in real-time and the filmmakers have no idea where the reality is going to take them, do eventually know how it ends during editing, and usually they have an angle they want to pursue.  Watch one of the best docs of all-time, Paradise Lost, about the child murders in West Memphis.  There is a little sliver of what the movie wants you to chew on while watching it, and that is, “We don’t think the person convicted of these crimes is the right guy.  Perhaps consider this guy.”  I could ramble on and on about how DOAP unfurls, but it fails as entertainment, with no true vision.  They didn’t need to kill the President to tell us the affects of his administration–in other words, it’s a waste of time.


Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: October 28, 2006, 12:18 pm

From the get go I thought this movie just sounded terrible. And from what you wrote, it looks like I was not mistaken.

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