Death of a President – DVD Review

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Gabriel Range

Hend Ayoub… Zahra Abi Zikri
Brian Boland… Larry Stafford
Becky Ann Baker… Eleanor Drake

Release Date: April 3, 2007
Running Time: 90 minutes

The Movie
Of all the movies released over the last couple years, none created as much controversy as Death of a President. Even before the movie was released people were condemning it. People were horrified at the idea of a movie depicting the death of George Bush and accusations were flying about how the filmmakers were ’emboldening terrorists’ or some such. Once the movie was actually released, the controversy quieted down rather quickly. Is that because the movie was not so offensive? Or because the media got distracted by the next shiny object? Read on to find out.

As the name suggests, Death of a President covers the assassination of a current president along with the effect it has on a personal and societal level. The filmmakers, either to create controversy or to make their movie feel more real (you be the judge), opted to not use a fictional president for their assassination scenario. Instead they depict an assassin gunning down President George W. Bush.

The first half of the movie sets the stage for the assassination. There’s a lot of focus on the political climate, and we meet some members of the Bush administration as they talk about their recollections of the events leading up to the assassination of the president. It turns out that the political climate in October 2007 isn’t all that different from the climate of today. There’s perhaps a little bit more worrying about North Korea, but for the most part things haven’t changed a whole lot.

Once the assassination has taken place the movie deals with the aftermath and it also turns into a bit of a whodunit. The audience is presented with a number of suspects and possible motives are explored. Because this isn’t a real documentary of a major event in recent history the mystery of who killed Bush is played up quite a bit. It takes quite some time before the identity of the killer is revealed to the audience.

More interesting than the search for the assassination is the political ramifications of President Bush’s assassination. Surprisingly, it turns out that assassination is not an effective means of creating changes in government policy. For all those on the left who have fantasied about getting rid of Bush, this movie serves as a stark reminder that the only thing scarier than President Bush is President Cheney. I would have liked to have seen even more time spent on how Bush’s assassination had effect on government policy and world affairs. It may not have the suspense of trying to find the assassin, but the whole point of having the president (fictionally) assassinated is so you can explore what happens next. Let the other movies play murder mystery.

From a technical standpoint, Death of a President is quite impressive. The film meshes together real footage of Bush appearances, protests and other events with their own footage in a nearly seamless fashion. To give an added touch of realism many of the actors from the film are digitally added to photos and the backgrounds of real videos of President Bush. On repeat viewings some of the video illusions aren’t quite as effective (for instance, the lighting doesn’t look quite right on the inserted character sitting on stage during President Bush’s speech) but, for the most part, the effect is flawless.

The acting in Death of a President works really well, too. As this is a fake documentary, the actors, with a few exceptions, appear mainly in interviews. To make their speech more authentic, they were only given a general outline of what to say, along with detailed information about their characters. So when the actors respond to questions, it feels like the character is answering a question, and not just reading a prepared script.

Unfortunately there are a couple of areas where the documentary feel is tarnished. As one would expect from a documentary covering a major historical event, there are some clips of news coverage surrounding the assassination. The movie does not use real news stations for their coverage (one assumes that CNN/Fox News/MSNBC/etc didn’t want any part of it). The problem with the created news coverage is that it doesn’t look flashy enough. You can’t really blame the movie for not being able to recreate the expensive look of actual news stations on its limited budget, but it still takes you a bit out of the moment.

The other problem is related to the setting. The documentary is looking back from late 2008/early 2009 (the back of the DVD case conflicts with the indirect timeline we’re given in the movie itself). If this were really a documentary about the assassination of President Bush 12 to 18 months in to the future, then it would be a rather shallow one. If this were a real world scenario, at least 90% of what is in the movie, including the interviews, would have been extensively covered already by the 24-hour news media. Everyone would already know why President Bush was in Chicago and who was convicted of the crime and things like that. The hypothetical audience for this movie would not be learning a whole lot from watching Death of a President. Of course, since the real audience hasn’t had the details hammered into their heads over and over again, that stuff needs to be in the movie so I’m not sure how the filmmakers could avoid this problem. Perhaps if the movie had been set further in the future (say ten to fifteen years later) then it would make more sense for it to dwell on the details of the assassination.

Of the controversy that surrounding this movie, it was undeserved, which is probably why it faded away relatively quickly after the film’s release. Yes, the movie depicts the assassination of the current president of the United States. However, it portrays the assassination as a tragic event; one which is utterly ineffective in getting the government to reverse any of its more hardline policies – in fact, the opposite occurs.

The Video
Presented in 16×9 widescreen. It’s supposed to look like a documentary so understandably there’s nothing all that amazing going on with the video. It does an admirable job of replicating the look of a documentary though.

The Audio
Once again, it’s a documentary, there’s not meant to be a lot going on in the audio. The audio mix itself is good; there are a couple spots where you can notice the looped in dialogue – Cheney’s saying President Bush at one point sounds just slightly off – but for the most part it’s impossible to tell the real audio from the created stuff.

The Extras
Commentary with Directory Gabriel Range
There are some neat tidbits here about how the movie was made, but there’s also a lot of dead air. A lot of times at the beginning of a scene or segment, Range will talk a bit about it, and then fall silent until the next scene.

Commentary with Director Gabriel Range, Writer/Producer Simon Finch, Editor Brad Thumin and Line Producer Donall McCusker
I suspect this commentary was created because the first one was rather lackluster. A lot of the same material is covered in this second commentary, but as there are three people now there’s little or no dead air and a lot more information to be had.

A 20-minute piece with Gabriel Range, Simon Finch and Brad Thumin. Some of the stuff here is also covered in the second commentary, but there’s some new material as well.


Also from Lions Gate
Previews for Deliver Us from Evil, The U.S. vs John Lennon, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man and Trade.

The Inside Pulse
Death of a President is a well-made film that does a good job of exploring a ‘What if’ scenario. It would have been even better had it spent more time exploring the political fallout and less on the ‘whodunit’ aspect, but it’s a good movie nonetheless. The extras are a bit on the weak side though.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Death of a President
(OUT OF 10)