Death of a President Shocking and Amazing
by Alex Billington
October 24, 2006
Death of a President is this year's most controversial film and is a difficult film to review. Based on the purported assassination of President George W. Bush in 2007, Death of a President takes a retrospective look at the shooting, the suspects and the subsequent arrests in a documentary style. Death of a President will leave viewers astonished and amazed with director Gabriel Range's work. Don't be deterred by the negative reactions this film has received from Democrats and Republicans alike; once you see it you will understand how powerful of a film it actually is.
The progression of the assassination starts as the President arrives in Chicago to give a speech to business leaders. As the action follows the growing anti-war protests occurring along the streets, a Chicago Police Department Deputy is interviewed, relaying his thoughts on the situation with the rioters as the President arrives. It continues through the President's speech and afterwards, where he is eventually shot outside while shaking hands. From there, an FBI agent and others are interviewed, as word spreads around the world and the immediate investigation begins. The story is very relevant to the current time, set just a year in the future. It has that powerful convincing connection that is so shocking that it may be confused with a real documentary.
Death of a President uses a very tense score the full way through - something more associated with a drama than with a documentary, yet it helps to define the mood. The characters' performances, whether various police officers, FBI agents, close officials to the President, or others, were utterly realistic - they felt like the people who would be interviewed if this were to have actually happened. The filmmakers combined real footage of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with CGI alterations to simulate the assassination. The CGI was nearly unnoticeable: it was seamlessly blended together and looked real. Death of a President maintains a very energetic and exciting feeling that comes from the matter-of-fact way it presents a "historical" event that is wholly fictional.
The only major problem was that it did not expand enough on individuals for interviews. The story became rather centralized and constrictive, and after a point could feel unrealistic. There just was not enough widespread coverage: all the people that were interviewed seemed to fit into a close circle that could be recognized as fake. However that doesn't take away from just how strongly it can strike home. Range's dislike of the George W. Bush administration pervades Death of a President. The film predicts that a bolder USA PATRIOT Act would be introduced immediately eliminating more freedoms, and that discrimination against Arab Muslims would increase drastically. Range starts and ends the film with the wife of an accused shooter, a Muslim, tying in strongly with the message he's trying to get across.
Death of a President follows the recent trend of incendiary polemics presented as documentaries, although this particular film "documents" a fictional event. It attacks what Range sees as an overzealous American government's reaction to terrorism, especially as it affects Muslims from the Middle East. In Death of a President, the wrong man is tried, is found guilty, and is sentenced to death simply because he was Muslim and had some distant ties to the Middle East - yet no one cared. The American people just let this happen and then buried his appeal, all because America's purported bias against Islam precludes the right to a fair trial. Death of a President carries a powerful message of warning about making scapegoats out of an entire religious population.
If Gabriel Range can do this with a fake documentary, imagine what he can do with a real documentary or other creative films. His ideas are very persuasively recognized in what was a detailed and thorough creation of what may be the most controversial fake event ever. Death of a President takes a step beyond the typical documentary in bringing the same powerful ideas but also a shocking realism to a futuristic fake happening. It's worth seeing once, but it lacks the lasting enjoyment that would make it suitable for repeat viewings in the theater or on DVD.