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Death of a President Oct 10

James Graham’s review of last night’s More 4 film Death of a President is spot on. His summary – “utterly pointless” – is the same conclusion I reached. Here’s a review I posted up last night for Daily Kos readers.

UK digital television channel More 4 this evening transmitted the first broadcast of Death of a President, the controversial new film showing a dramatised assassination of President George W. Bush. The movie has already been rejected by two cinema chains in the US, where it opens on October 27.

In October 2007, President Bush attends a speaking engagement in Chicago. As he departs, a sniper shoots him several times and he dies in hospital shortly afterwards. Those all-too-terrifying words “President Cheney” take effect.

Some deft video and picture editing mattes together genuine footage of Bush with protagonists who also appear as talking heads, reflecting on the events. But is the film disrepectful, and, more importantly, is it any good?

For such a dramatic fictional event, it’s a remarkably dull film. Presumably to give it as much gravitas as possible and to duck accusations of sensationalism, all excitement and tension has been wrung out of it. Whereas a documentary about what might happen if Bush were killed – however foreseeable to most of us – could be interesting, most of the film is a tedious whodunit, focusing on the attempt to identify the shooter. The storytelling device – characters talking to camera, recalling the events and the investigation – is painfully slow and struggles to retain the viewer’s interest.

The fallout from the assassination doesn’t require much imagination, and for the most part the film goes along with the expected consequences: predictably, the writer chooses to introduce a Muslim suspect and Middle East intrigue; tougher snooping laws are quickly enacted. However, a scene of anti-war campaigners cheering when they hear the President of the United States has been killed stuck out like a sore thumb. Shock would be the most likely reaction, surely, even for the most militant protesters, not celebration.

There were so many different ways to deal with the subject matter that it didn’t need to dramatise the murder of a real, living president. It felt gratuitous, whether it was or not, and left a bad taste in the mouth for the rest of the movie. Bush’s fictional speechwriter recounting her prayers with Laura Bush at the hospital seemed particularly tasteless, as was the reuse of Cheney’s Reagan eulogy for Bush.

Did I learn anything from the film? No – because it was entirely fictional. Did I enjoy it? Not really – it was flat, paceless, and obvious. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of showing the killing on grounds of taste and respect, that the result is such a tedious missed opportunity is what makes it hard to justify.

One Response

  1. I became turned off about half-way through – considering the hype, it certainly did not live up to my expectations.