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
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:
Death of a President opens in select cities on Friday, October 27.