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Death of a President

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Author Topic: Death of a President  (Read 250 times)
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« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2007, 03:04:25 am »

Death of a President
A Film Review by James Berardinelli

United Kingdom, 2006
U.S. Release Date: 10/27/06 (limited)
Running Length: 1:30
MPAA Classification: R (Profanity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Cast: Hend Ayoub, Brian Boland, Becky Ann Baker, Robert Mangiardi, Jay Patterson, Jay Whittaker, Michael Reilly Burke, James Urbaniak
Director: Gabriel Range
Screenplay: Simon Finch, Gabriel Range
Cinematography: Graham Smith
Music: Richard Harvey
U.S. Distributor: Newmarket Films

It has been one of the hottest tickets everywhere in North America where it has been shown. Now, placed in a limited number of U.S. theaters despite the near-solidarity of a chain multiplex ban, the movie is opening less than two weeks before Election Day. That timing, one could argue, is a bigger political point that anything in the content. I'm referring to the pseudo-documentary Death of a President, which has received an inordinate amount of media coverage and has been tagged with the label "controversial." For this movie, as for Snakes on a Plane, the hype dwarfs the reality. Death of a President is celluloid mediocrity. It's neither interesting nor convincing.

Give the filmmakers credit for drumming up interest in their film. The story is simple enough. In the near future (October 2007, to be precise), a sitting U.S. president is assassinated while attending a fund raiser in Chicago. His assassin is hunted down. Could it be a left wing militant? A pro-Syrian businessman who has traveled to Afghanistan? Or a disaffected ex-military man? The movie is presented like one of those History Channel documentaries, with faux interviews (featuring character actors portraying talking heads) and news footage of the President's last day. The hook, and the only reason anyone is writing about this movie, is that the sitting president is George W. Bush. Death of a President is about the fictional assassination of a man who's still alive.

Does the film cross a line? Perhaps. It's certainly exploitative, and I can understand why the President is uncomfortable about the movie. If this was a serious examination of the possible long-term ramifications of George Bush's current foreign policy, or if it had anything interesting to say about Bush's legacy, it might be justifiable. But that's not the case. The decision to use Bush rather than a fictional representation of him is for no reason other than self-promotion. That makes Death of a President crass in addition to being dull and sloppily assembled.

I am not a supporter of President Bush (as long-time readers are aware), but I have been dismayed by the knee-jerk positive reaction to this film by some Bush detractors. A mediocre movie is a mediocre movie, whether it supports your political position or that of the opposition, and Death of a President is a mediocre movie. It says nothing profound. Ironically, it doesn't take much of a political position at all. It doesn't deal with the potential consequences of how the world might change if Cheney replaced Bush. (There are vague references to the passage of a Patriot III Act, but no explanation of what that entails beyond "expanding the powers of the Executive Branch.") Death of a President seems exclusively interested in indicating that if you're a suspect in an assassination, being a Muslim might not be a good thing.

Some have argued that the movie illustrates how the Bush Administration's post-9/11 policies could be extended into a fictitious future and used to railroad an innocent man into a conviction because it is politically expedient. Such an argument displays a lack of historical perspective. It's a reality of any high-profile crime (past, current, or future) that there is an incredible amount of pressure placed on Law Enforcement to arrest someone, even if that person turns out to be a patsy. Bush's policies have nothing to do with this. How many people doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? How many theories are there that Sirhan Sirhan wasn't the one who fired the fatal shots at RFK? The list goes on... The cops pounce. A suspect is jailed. A trial is held. The suspect is convicted. The public feels justice has been done. That's the way things have always been in America. Trying to tie this into Bush's policies is a leap down a blind alley.

The film uses doctored archived news footage of Bush, Cheney, and others to create its fictional 2007. That would be a clever way to assemble a view of the near future if some of the alterations were accomplished with more aptitude - something that should not be difficult in this era of CGI. (In fact, the CGI enhanced assassination scene is effective, in part because it happens so quickly.) In some cases, it's possible to see where overdubbing occurred. For example, in one instance, Dick Chaney's lips are forming one name while his voice is saying "George Bush." The visual/audio mismatch is so blatant that there were titters in the audience. Director Gabriel Range may have a vision, but the technical inconsistency with which he brings it to the screen hurts its presentation, and the amount of time he spends on faux forensics is enough to put even die-hard CSI fans to sleep.

Despite the hype, Death of a President will likely amount to little. Given the opportunity to see it, expect to be unimpressed. The first half has its share of involving moments (as Bush's final hours are recounted), but it turns tedious during the lengthy post-assassination investigation. Range believes he has made an important film, but it would be hard to support that view based on the on-screen evidence. Fictionally killing a real person, regardless of how poorly liked he is, is tacky at best and unwarranted at worst. Could it be justified for a powerful, thought-provoking movie? Yes, but neither of those descriptors applies here. Death of a President recalls the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes, which are no clothes at all.

2006 James Berardinelli
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« Reply #16 on: October 14, 2007, 03:07:10 am »


Alternate history is a perennial of science fiction and has even occasionally been used as a hook for journalistic political analysis, as in the long-ago Look magazine cover-story imagining of President John F. Kennedy's first thousand days. Much more recently, Sean Penn starred in the alt-history drama The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004). That the British faux documentary Death of a President--conceived as a 2008 TV-news special about U.S. President George Bush's assassination nearly a year earlier and the sociopolitical fallout from that event-has been condemned sight unseen by politicians and pundits from James Pinkerton to Hillary Clinton is understandable and completely predictable: They can't not comment, so when they do, they have to play to their audiences. None of them seriously believes that this work of fiction will really make someone take a potshot at the president, and anyway, the attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life came out of a crazy guy's fascination with Jodie Foster, so you may as well decry movies starring blonde former child actresses.

In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone without a political agenda who can walk away from this serious, sober and impeccably respectful film and get agitated about it on its merits. Mimicking the look and tone of documentaries done in the wake of tragic deaths from JFK to Princess Diana, director Gabriel Range--a former documentary filmmaker for the ever-staid BBC and others--and his producer and co-screenwriter, the Cambridge-educated former documentary producer Simon Finch, provide all the formal gravitas one would expect. It's 2008, nearly a year after President Bush was shot by a sniper outside the Chicago Sheraton on Oct. 19, 2007, dying shortly thereafter. Forgoing a narrator, though with occasional intertitles setting time and place, the mock documentary rounds up the usual talking heads to recreate what happened: the Secret Service agent heading the presidential detail that day (Brian Boland), the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation (Michael Reilly Burke), a Washington Post reporter (Jay Patterson), a Bush speechwriter who was there (Becky Ann Baker), and others. The filmmakers achieve their what-if world through ingenious CGI-manipulated and artfully juxtaposed real news footage and newly shot "surveillance videos" and such.

The mesmerizing true-to-life result is actually less about George Bush, who's presented as a more multifaceted human being than in probably more real-world accounts, but the post-murder environment. Vice President Dick Cheney is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, and pushes forward the Patriot Act 3, permanently granting law enforcement unprecedented surveillance powers on U.S. citizens and others. He also toys with an attack on Syria, which reputedly stonewalls an investigation into the leading suspect, a Syrian-American named Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader), who is eventually convicted on questionable forensic and circumstantial evidence. The documentary, however, also offers another, much more likely suspect, along with well-placed red herrings throughout.

The actors portraying the interviewed experts are by and large remarkably convincing, and the overall film so much so that it at times becomes unexpectedly moving. Seeing Bush speechwriter Eleanor Drake choking up despite her best efforts to remain composed on camera crystallizes the human element that reminds us all, ideologues and idealists alike, that no one person has the power that a system has. The nation simply kept moving after Nixon's resignation; it would do the same here. The real shot we should all take is to create a system we all can live with.

Critic: Frank Lovece
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« Reply #17 on: October 14, 2007, 03:09:02 am »

Censors block Bush assassination movie


The guardians of movie ethics in Japan blocked the distribution of a controversial movie depicting the imaginary assassination of U.S. President George W. Bush because of objections to its Japanese title, sources said Wednesday.

The movie is the 2006 British pseudo-documentary "Death of a President," which graphically depicts the fictional killing and its after-effects on American society.

The Japanese distribution company Presidio Corp. submitted the title "Bush Ansatsu," which literally means "Bush Assassinated."

That apparently went too far for the Administration Commission of Motion Picture Code of Ethics (Eirin), which approves movies, both domestic and foreign, for viewing in Japan.

Movies not approved by the independent, nongovernmental organization cannot be shown at member theaters of the Japan Association of Theatre Owners. Almost all theaters in Japan are members of the association.

In the movie, Bush is shown being assassinated after giving a speech in Chicago and being replaced by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Presidio officials said they believed the movie was not approved because Eirin members felt the company's handling of the movie violated a code provision that states "the sovereignty of all nations should be respected and care should be taken in dealing with heads of state, national flags, national anthems and ethnic customs."

In response to questions by The Asahi Shimbun, Eirin officials confirmed that the movie was rejected because of the Japanese title.(IHT/Asahi: May 18,2007)
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« Reply #18 on: October 14, 2007, 03:12:47 am »

Death of a President scores TIFF critics' prize
Last Updated: Saturday, September 16, 2006 | 4:45 PM ET
CBC Arts

The controversial British film Death of a President, which depicts the assassination of U.S. President George W. Bush, has won the international critics' prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Death of a President, directed by Gabriel Range, was chosen "for the audacity with which it distorts reality, to reveal a larger truth," said a statement released by the festival.

Noel Mitrani, who directed Sur La Trace D'Igor Rizzi, accepts the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.
(Aaron Harris/Canadian Press)
The film is described as having a "unique premise, told in the style of a retrospective documentary, which offers a critique of the contemporary U.S. political landscape."

The director said he found it encouraging that his film found a distributor at the festival as well as winning an award.

"I hope that's proof that people can see beyond the premise and see that it's a film about this post 9/11 world we live in," said Range at the ceremony.
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