Director Gabriel Range channels the great auteur Peter Watkins who pioneered (and remains the master of) a unique film narrative form called pseudo-documentary; it involves the technique of shooting fiction as newsreel footage and of mixing truth with embellishment to depict a parallel universe that allows the audience to reflect on our (real) present. Watkins’ “The War Game” was a 1967 pseudo-documentary and SF film that examined a situation in which Britian is under nuclear attack. “Death of President” is based on a similarly provocative scenario: the aftermath of the assassination of George W Bush, the 43rd President of the United States of America.
“Death of a President” comes at a relevant time — Bush’s foreign and domestic policies have literally changed the way our world functions. The film starts with great promise: we witness a violent public protest of the President’s policies, particularly his take on Iraq. There are a series of dramatic talking head interviews with actors playing key personnel in Bush’s administration (both real and fictional) — these serve to orient us with what happened on Oct 19, 2007, the day two bullets tore through Bush’s rib-cage killing him. In the film, Bush is, ironically, painted as a misunderstood hero — a president of substantial intelligence and empathy; someone with great love for his people. It, thus, stands to reason that “Death of a President” has no political slant. As the film progresses, in the two years after Bush’s death, we learn that this assassination may have lead to far worse consequences. Dick Cheney is sworn in as the 44th president; he gets Congress to ratify Patriot Act III which gives intelligence agencies even more flexibility to override Americans’ civil liberties.
Given the obvious research and effort by director Range, this film presented him with a tremendous opportunity to investigate America’s future policies and its role in the world. However, “Death of a President” takes its title almost single-mindedly; it engages in unnecessary JFK-style conspiracy theories about the villainy of the FBI and the CIA and how they frame Jamal, an innocent Muslim Syrian man for Bush’s murder while insinuating that the real culprit might have been a disillusioned, decorated ex-American military Major. And isn’t it all too convenient to ramp up the emotional factor by teary-eyed interviews of Jamal’s wife who plays the token victim of the American political and social injustice? It’s a copout when the film had so much going for it. The original concept, we should ultimately feel compelled to say, is not an original. The scenario of the American President being assassinated by rogue citizens and/or terrorists is a part of the American cultural heritage (Lincoln, Kennedy). Speaking in terms of pop culture, this subject has seen to the handled with more dramatic conviction in the TV shows such as “24.” In the end, although “Death of a President” is a revitalising take on a tired theme, it sacrifices sure footing to win mainstream libertarian sympathy.
- by Adnan Khan [Rated 3 out of 5]