Ever since Michael Moore arrived on the scene, the cinematic landscape has been rife with political agendas. I find film such a meaningful and accessible medium that I consider it important to keep an open mind about these expressions — which is why I'm disturbed by the two camps of reactions I've encountered concerning Death of a President, a mockumentary looking back at the Oct 19, 2007 assassination of President George W. Bush.
Without having seen the film, some potential viewers may attack it as violent and unnecessarily advocative. Yet though I disclaim to these people, "The film doesn't encourage the action it documents," I am more disturbed when I must offer such defense to the opposite camp: those for whom describing the movie's premise results in their eyes lighting up with a fearsome glee. Living in a blue state, I've witnessed this reaction more often than I care to count, and I'm appalled at the number of people who think the solution to an administration that's gone too far to the right is to gun down the leader of the free world.
If either group were to watch the film, though, I think they would find little antagonism beyond its concept. Death of a President relates the events leading up to the President being shot, using actual footage of events and speeches President Bush attended. Original scenes include exterior footage of motorcades as well as interviews with personnel close to the President, including his speechwriter and Secret Service agent. The integration between actual and manufactured footage and stills is seamless, easily pulling the audience into its false accounts. This first half-hour is both tense and powerful, as its players know when and how the assassination is going to happen — yet all the audience can do is hold their breath and wait. Viewers who were present for our last presidential assassination may find this one evoking some painful memories.
It is after the bullet hits that Death of a President begins to lose its impact. I was hoping the film would take a global perspective in its examination of the impact of our president's assassination on the international theater. And though this topic is touched upon, the film's character becomes that of a murder mystery or political thriller. Suspects and forensic analysts are interviewed as investigators try to determine whodunnit. Clues and red herrings are scattered about, and the conclusion is not what anyone expected — or even desired.
Perhaps if the film had taken a longer view of the killing's repercussions, it might have taken a greater scale. Death of a President is set in 2008, only a year after its fictitious subject, when all that it has engendered is the swearing in of President Cheney and the passing of Patriot Act III, giving the FBI and other departments unprecedented powers to prevent future acts of terrorism. The consequences of these transitions are not well-documented, though, as little time has been given for such consequences to occur.
This documentary starts off with great potential yet ultimately gets swallowed up in details. It has a fascinating concept and may still be worth watching, but ultimately, I was hoping it would go beyond the titular death into looking at the lives of those left behind.