Death Of A President

2006, Movie, R, 93 mins

Review

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT
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Gabriel Range's sober, cautionary faux documentary was denounced reflexively — in many cases, sight unseen — for daring to dramatize the assassination of a sitting president. But inciting politically motivated murder is the farthest thing from Range's mind — following in the footsteps of filmmakers like Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo (IT HAPPENED HERE, 1966), Peter Watkins (THE WAR GAME, 1965) and Mick Jackson (THREADS, 1984), he uses fake events to examine real issues. His film is less about the fatal shooting of a president than about what happens next, and Range's real concern is post-9/11 fearmongering and its corrosive effect on democratic ideals. In 2008, White House speechwriter Eleanor Drake (Becky Ann Baker), senior Secret Service agent Larry Stafford (Brian Boland), FBI field-office head Robert H. McGuire (Michael Reilly Burke), journalist Sam McCarthy (Jay Patterson), forensic examiner James Pearn (James Urbaniak) and others sit down with a documentary crew to examine the events of October 19, 2007, and their aftermath. Surveillance and news footage help chart the last hours of President George Walker Bush, from Air Force One's arrival at Chicago's O'Hare Airport to the convergence of several large, angry protest groups outside the hotel where he was giving a speech and the aggressive police response that produced a near riot. The president's handlers try fruitlessly to discourage a scheduled curbside appearance, but he insists and is cut down while shaking hands with supporters. Suspects include radical environmental activist Frank Molini (Jay Whittaker), troubled Iraq-war veteran Casey Claybon (M. Neko Parham) and office worker Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader), who worked in the building from which the shots were fired and had vague ties to radical Muslim clerics and Pakistani terrorist-training camps. The film loses momentum as the investigation bogs down in false starts, contradictory theories, dead ends and promising clues that never quite fit together, which isn't bad filmmaking — it's a vivid demonstration of why zealots and ideologues speak in absolutes. Parsing infinite shades of gray doesn't make converts, pass legislation or elect candidates. Given the controversy, which strongly suggested that the filmmakers had it in for President Bush, the film's biggest shocker may be how kind Range and coscreenwriter Simon Finch are to him. Loyal, personable speechwriter Drake is the film's primary witness to the man behind the public figure, and she recalls a gentle, unflappable, fundamentally moral man with the gift of making everyone to whom he spoke feel like the only person in the room. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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