Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: Death of a President

Never has a movie filled me with such a feeling of dread as Death of a President, the chilling mockumentary that explores the morbid question of what would happen were George W. Bush assassinated. Splicing real footage together to depict the fatal assassination that follows a run-of-the-mill presidential appearance in front of business leaders in Chicago and the incredibly plausible reaction--an almost-immediate round-up of a suspect with a vague Al-Quaeda link who provides an excuse for new President Cheney (shudder) to go after dictatorship du jour Syria, the fortification and permanent passage of the Patriot Act, the idealization by political leaders of a late President Bush--Death of a President imparts the eeriness of living in a creeping surveillance state that is further egged on with each national tragedy.

Death of a President also paints a nuanced picture of the presidential assassin. The group of American presidential assassins and would-be assassins held idiosyncratic motives for their actions, almost invariably apart from the controversies of the day. In Death of a President, the most obvious suspect, the one whose motives so perfectly draw out the political issues of the day is immediately suspected, the unwitting victim of projection, in this case, of American society's need to bring feel-good closure to the war on terror.

The build-up to the assassination, featuring montages of a protest in Chicago's Loop with clips of a Bush speech on North Korea, is the least interesting sequence of this film. However, the denouement following the Bush assassination is gripping. Interviews with a Secret Service agent who bemoans the security hole that allows the assassination and with an overzealous but hesitant federal prosecutor seem realistic. The truth that eventually emerges about the assassination amounts to just the sort of tragedy caused by fighting in a war and untreated mental health conditions to which we are too accustomed. This one is definitely worth seeing.

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