There are so many ways a fictional movie about the assassination of one of the most hated presidents in U.S. history could go wrong. The most popular theory on Gabriel Range's fauxumentory Death of a President is that the very idea of the film is overtly liberal and putrid in practice; Hilary Clinton, of all people, denounced the film for making any dough out of such a horrendous speculation. Shockingly, Range's film might be one of the kinder treatments of the nation's leader to hit the screen yet.
It's 2007 and our President is in Chicago for a brief speech to Illinois business leaders. While exiting a Sheraton hotel one night after a conference in Chicago, George W. Bush is shot twice by an assailant and rushed off to a hospital, where he is pronounced dead after an attempted surgery. Most of the film seamlessly incorporates talking heads of fictional staff members and suspects, as well as the ceaselessly impressive mix of real footage of Bush and fake footage of his assassination and the subsequent manhunt. To make the assassination seem even more plausible, Range uses actual footage of a large protest in Chicago surrounding a 2005 Bush visit.
While in the hospital, a spokesman comes out and notifies the press that the doctor operating on Bush has said that he has "never seen such a strong heart" on a man of his age and that they are all hoping for the best. If this is liberal propaganda, it's pretty lean; if anything, Bush is given a hero's tribute in most of the scenes, and his administration is a grieving body, not a conspiracy machine; at least that's how it is in the beginning.
Death of a President speaks more to the notion of tragedy being used as someone's agenda. Syrian politicians, newsmen, theorists, and FBI coordinators are interviewed and used to accentuate the idea that in a time of such high emotions, some people can really put their ideology at the forefront. Here, the ideology is that Syria was behind the assassination and that a soldier named Zikri (Hend Ayoub) was the shooter.
While Bush himself is given a pass, Range is bloodthirsty over the way his administration handled 9/11 and how it was used as a springboard for them to stir up things in the Middle East. Wisely, Range doesn't evoke 9/11 nor does he specifically take the side of conspiracy; the idea of what is going on seems so openly talked about that it could only be called a public conspiracy. The fact that Range and his crew can put real footage of Cheney and others into an entirely different situation and make it look so genuine says more than talk of conspiracies and secret meetings ever could.
The flipside of Michael Moore's conspirapalooza, DOAP not only has a smarter satirical stab, its technical merits are beyond reproach. Editor Brad Thumim pulls something of a miracle off by being able to make the film look so flawlessly crafted, barely allowing one string to be seen behind Range's digital marionette. Becky Ann Baker (the mom from Freaks & Geeks) is woven into the film's heart as Bush's speechwriter and confidant, giving the film a healthy dollop of emotional backdrop. For Range, the film seems like a plea of mercy and honesty surrounding how the government conducts itself in times of tragedy, manipulating instead of mourning. Other filmmakers want to point fingers and go off on tangents. Range, dutifully, stays the course.
Nothing to see here, move along.