Anthony's Film Review
Death of a President (2006)
Regardless of the sharp technical and artistic quality, this film is just irresponsible and pointless...
Movies that are fictional but are made to look like documentaries can work, but it depends on the purpose. For example, fictional documentaries make sense in the genre of comedy, because the style can be used as part of satire. Dramatic fictional documentaries can also work, as long as everyone knows that it's not real. Now how about this? What if you have a movie that is in the form of a fictional documentary, but the subject matter pertains to fictitious tragic events involving real people, instead of having everything fictional? Can such a film be presented in a serious manner without confusing everyone?
Well, I'm not so sure, because I saw the 2006 fictional documentary Death of a President, directed by British filmmaker Gabriel Range. It was a film that left me with just a single question: "Why?"
It is true that U.S. President George W. Bush had many critics, especially since the war in Iraq began. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with something, and even voicing it in somewhat inflammatory ways, because America's First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. At the same time, it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." When it comes to free speech, we do have some degree of ethical responsibility to make sure that our words do not lead to someone else getting hurt, whether intentional or not. In my mind, Death of a President, depicting the fictional assassination of President Bush, certainly hits President Bush in the nose.
I will give the movie credit for one thing. With its effective editing and style of presentation, the film looks and feels no different from a real documentary. Of course, I would only enjoy it if this was a true documentary. As the film begins, a Middle Eastern woman is speaking about her concerns of a post-9/11 stigma against Muslims. Though it's not real, the segment was engaging, especially when she asks whether someone with a gun and a finger on the trigger has taken a moment to think about the consequences of his actions. Interestingly enough, that was the question I had for this film's director.
Soon, the film shifts to Chicago where President Bush is arriving to deliver a speech about the U.S. economy. Real footage of Bush is combined with (presumably) staged footage of an anti-Bush protest in downtown Chicago. Again, I had the same feeling. It's hard to get into a fictional documentary knowing that it depicts certain real-life individuals in a very unfavorable light. I kept asking what the point of this was, especially as the cable news delivers plenty of material that is just like what this film is presenting. As for Bush's assassination itself, his face is not shown. However, Bush is seen moments before as he heads for his limo; the digital placement of Bush's face on an actor is convincing (I'm assuming that was done here), but I did notice how Bush's voice sounded somewhat off from his real voice.
Afterwards, the only major references to the assassination involve a second-hand account of First Lady Laura Bush's grieving (not a more official statement), breaking news on local television stations (but not any cable channel like CNN), and Bush's funeral with Dick Cheney delivering the eulogy (consisting of clips of Ronald Reagan's memorial service pieced together). Otherwise, the rest of the movie focuses on an investigation to find Bush's assassin. Some might argue that it's great the film doesn't focus on Bush entirely. Still, it's a distasteful gimmick. Again, the film failed to engage me because none of it was real.
With all of this, my rating for Death of a President sits on the negative side. Again, it's mainly because of a lack of interest of an all-too-real fictional documentary. It's not because I felt sickened while watching the movie. Nevertheless, if it weren't for the disclaimer at the beginning, the film could potentially be mistaken for fact in the most ill-informed individual. That's not what I want to happen. It's as bad as a news organization delivering propaganda as fact. In the post-9/11 world, with already so much turmoil going on, the last thing we need is for someone to lead others in the wrong direction, instead of on a path to freedom and peace.
For more information about Death of a President, visit the Internet Movie Database.