"He said to me, Mike, the President is on the line. I thought it was some kind of sick joke, and he said, no, Mike, President Cheney."
If those last two words don't scare the ever-loving shit out of you, I don't know what would. Is that enough of a premise to sustain a 90 minute film? Well, hang on, that's not entirely fair... The 2006 film Death of a President is presented as a documentary from the future that details the assassination of President George W. Bush on a trip to Chicago in October of 2007. I'm sure there are plenty of people in this country and certainly this world that hate George W. Bush more than me, but I am of the humble opinion that his administration is the absolute worst thing that has happened to this country in the last century. 9/11 & Pearl Harbor & all the attacks on this country are one thing, but this man spent eight years dismantling freedom in this country and installing policies that helped the rich get richer and crippled the middle class and especially the poor.
Personal feelings aside though, how would I have reacted had he been assassinated as this fictional documentary posits? I think my first reaction would have been relief to be rid of the douchebag, but then a creeping dread would set in when I would realize who was taking over for him. I'm a true liberal, in every sense of the word, but the people that made this faux-documentary are the worst kinds of liberals. They're the ones who seek to use the same fear tactics that conservatives thrive on against them. I feel you can't fight fire with fire, and anyone seeking to do that has their message diminished. I have no doubt that what this film presents is certainly a possibility of what would have happened in the aftermath of an event such as the assassination of a President, but I don't know how probable it is. The film however treats it like not just the logical outcome of such an event, but the only possible conclusion.
Utilizing talking head interviews, file footage & news casts, the film strives for verisimilitude, but the overacting of many of the talking heads sinks the film almost immediately. Bush arrives in Chicago to give a speech about creating jobs that's really a stern warning to North Korea to stop its "nucular" ambitions (sorry, couldn't resist). I admire the way the film uses actual footage of Bush to give the film an air of immediacy, but as I said earlier, it's the interviews with the people who were there that really makes the film fall apart.
Bush heads out to greet his supporters, and is hit twice in the chest before being shoved into his limo and rushed to Northwestern Hospital in downtown Chicago. Despite their best efforts, the doctors aren't able to save him, and he dies on the operating table. The feds investigate every possible lead, rounding up potential suspects like a militant anti-Bush protestor who broke the protest line and hid in a building across the street, and a former soldier who was spotted in the area immediately after the assassination. Their focus narrows however to a Syrian man named Jamal Abu Zikri, and as his past comes to light, he seems not only the most likely suspect, but certainly the most convenient.
It's one thing to be heavy-handed, it's another to draw these conclusions and present them the way they do. Because the suspect is Syrian, Cheney wants to find out if there's a link to the Syrian government, and if there was a conspiracy by them to have Bush assassinated. Cheney and Congress (which would have been Democrat controlled at this point in history) pass a new version of The Patriot Act giving virtually unlimited power and resources to the FBI to round up, interrogate and deport whomever they saw fit. I have no doubt that Cheney is the kind of man who would cream in his jeans over the possibility of being granted and, in turn, granting this kind of power, but there's no way both houses would have rolled over to his whims. But I digress, the film has an agenda, and needs conveniences like this to sell it, so I guess we'll just go with it.
As I said earlier, the talking heads are atrocious. The worst are the head of the Secret Service at the time who turns into a blubbery mess anytime he begins recounting the events, and a young man who was apprehended as a suspect because his name was Samir Masri. This kid makes William Shatner seem like a model of restraint. He's only in the film for about five minutes, but he is so unbearable, he almost single-handedly turned me off to the whole thing. James Urbaniak, the actor who played R. Crumb in American Splendor, turn up playing a forensic investigator, and he's probably the best of the bunch, but the rest are just awful.
When it becomes clear, even after his conviction, that Zikri is more than likely not the assassin, he just has the most convenient and easy story to sell to the world, the film's scheme becomes insufferable. Writer/Director Gabriel Range has tried to have it both ways. By making a film about a the assassination of a President as massively unpopular as Bush was at this point in time, he's trying to say that it would still be a tragedy, and the country would unite behind such an event. At the same time, he's also attacking the people in this country who would happily accept a more intrusive and expansive government giving us an easy solution we can all get behind. It's not just an affront towards the Neo-Con movement that dominated the first half of the last decade, it's an all-out assault on the average person in this country, who would willingly roll-over and accept such base, partisan bullshit.
That's where the film really pissed me off. It depicts the people of this country as bloodthirsty, stupid and compliant, and while I think that does accurately describe a portion of the population, this country is smarter than this filmmaker gives it credit for, and this is why the average liberal is such an easy target for the zealots on the right. They're so easy to depict as snobs and elitists who thumb their nose at society. This film does nothing to help diminish that image, and worst of all, it's not even entertaining. Get one of those two right, and at least there's a reason to exist. Without either of those to things, this becomes as unessential a film as can be.
Avoid it at all costs.