President George W. Bush as himself
Hend Ayoub as Zahra Abi Zikri
Brian Boland as Larry Stafford
Becky Ann Baker as Eleanor Drake
Robert Mangiardi as Greg Turner
Jay Patterson as Sam McCarthy
Jay Whittaker as Frank Molini
Michael Reilly Burke as Robert H. Maguire
James Urbaniak as Dr. James Pearn
Neko Parham as Casey Claybon
Seena Jon as Samir Masri
Christian Stolte as John Rucinski
Chavez Ravine as Marianne Claybon
Patricia Buckley as Dawn Newton
Patrick Clear as Adam Brock
Malik Bader as Jamal Abu Zikri
Directed by Gabriel Range
This clever fake documentary uses an impressive mix of real and created footage, but it never really grabs you or keeps you interested due to its slow talking heads M.O.
On October 19, 2007, President George W. Bush was shot and killed by an unknown assassin after speaking at a financial conference in Chicago. “Death of a President” is a 2008 documentary made by filmmaker Gabriel Range about the shooting and the events that followed.
In a country filled with growing discontent about the performance of our government, British filmmaker Gabriel Range came up with a clever idea to show what might happen if the liberal cries for Bush’s head were taken to the extreme. The results are a hypothetical documentary illustrating what might happen if President Bush were assassinated, told after the fact using archival footage, both found and created, and interviews with those around the President including advisors, secret service men and FBI investigators, all fictional.
According to the film, President Bush arrived in Chicago to speak at a financial conference in October 2007, where he’s faced by mobs of angry protesters, and though the security detail does everything by the books, a sniper shoots and kills the President, sending the city and country into a frenzy to find the assassin as Vice President Cheney takes over and things get progressively worse.
“Death of a President” isn’t a movie that tries to glorify or condemn anyone who has the audacity to try to kill our country’s leader, instead showing the repercussions of such an event including the FBI’s investigation into a Muslim man with ties to Syria and Afghanistan who might have shot Bush as part of an elaborate assassination scheme. The movie is interspersed with interviews from his angry wife asking why he might do something like that, but he’s only one of many suspects, and the documentary offers plenty of other theories and opinions.
The entire film has a dark and mournful tone, as you might expect from a movie about such a horrifying event, but there’s something off about it. The movie is an amazing achievement in terms of taking actual footage of the President shot in Chicago and creating something new by adding scripted interviews with those who were around at the time of the shooting. Knowing the premise going in and realizing how Range created archive footage using computer effects takes away from the experience, because it’s hard to take any of it seriously. The movie isn’t necessarily as anti-Bush as some might expect, but it does send mixed messages, which might not be appreciated regardless of your own personal feelings about the President. Parallels could certainly be drawn to Paul Greengrass’ “United 93” in terms of execution, but it lacks the emotional impact in recreating these fictional events, so watching this What If scenario will leave some with mixed emotions.
Even worse, the movie is a bit of a yawner. Most documentaries are only as interesting as the people interviewed and what they have to say, but this ends up being a lot of talking and smoking gun theories, essentially from actors reading scripted testimonials. These interviews are so clinical that it makes the movie feel even more fake, and it just doesn’t do enough to keep the viewer interested after the actual shooting.
Range and co-writer Simon Finch should be given props for the way the film was assembled, but it ends up being a surprisingly dull topic for a documentary, maybe because you know it’s not based on facts or truth. Their decision to turn the last act of the movie into an opportunity to comment on the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq doesn’t help, because it takes away from this being taken seriously as a theoretical exercise.
The Bottom Line:
Those deeply interested in American and world politics might be interested in how the assassination of the President might affect our country, but for the most part, it’s a pretty bland fake documentary that starts out unbiased but slowly lets the filmmakers’ own political agendas seep in, rather than being an unbiased reporting of this hypothetical assassination. Even bearing that in mind, this ain’t “JFK.” It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of promise to the initial concept.
Death of a President opens in select cities on Friday, October 27.