The Hunting of the President Movie Review

It would have been nice if the documentary The Hunting of the President had been made in the late 1990s, when the country was in the throes of Monicagate, Whitewatergate, Troopergate and an endless flood of Clinton jokes, but in some sense it's best to have this film released now, so we can look back from a time of actual crisis (war, faltering economy), chastised, and see just how much time we as a country wasted. Adapted from the book of the same title by Gene Lyons and columnist Joe Conason, the film means to lay out the how and the why of what Hilary Clinton famously called "the vast right-wing conspiracy" to bring down her husband by any means necessary. About the only thing not proven here is that it was vast. There was a conspiracy (can you call it that if nobody's bothering to keep it a secret?) to bring Clinton down, but it emanated from a fairly small cabal of Republican millionaires and ideologues who had the money and the venom necessary to do whatever it took to try and depose the sitting president.

As filmmakers, the team of Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason (longtime Clinton allies) have some learning to do - Rule #1: interspersing your talking-heads with nonsensical stock footage for comic relief gets old fast - but their connections with Bill served them well. There's a steady stream of A-list commentators, from usual suspects like James Carville and Paul Begala, including media icons like the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and The New Yorker's Jeffery Toobin, and even some unexpected ones like Jerry Falwell - basically there to say he doesn't agrees or disagree with a popular documentary his TV show aired which claimed Clinton was a murderer and drug smuggler - who lay out, in sometimes excruciating detail, how the right-wing fringe went after the president, and the lives they ruined along the way.

It's already been pretty well-established that the team behind the prosecution of the Whitewater non-scandal - from Ken Starr to Ted Olsen and others - as well as the legal team representing Paula Jones, had extensive ties to conservative groups like the Federalist Society. But where The Hunting of the President takes it further is by looking at how this years-long effort, in which hundreds of FBI agents and private investigators flooded Arkansas, looking under every rock for the slightest scrap of impropriety, was likely to stop at nothing until something, anything, was found. The filmmakers make a wise choice by making the most tragic figure in this whole sordid episode not Clinton himself - who is excoriated by some of his former allies for giving the zealot prosecutors too much ammunition by lying to them about Monica - but Susan McDougal. Former wife to Jim McDougal, the mentally ill, fiscally irresponsible man who went into the Whitewater deal with the Clinton years ago, McDougal refused point-blank when prosecutors essentially told her to give them what they wanted, true or not. She spent two years in jail - manacled and stuck on "murderers' row" with women convicted of killing their children - for refusing to help in what was essentially an attempt at a bloodless coup.

Although rough around the edges and partisan to a fault, The Hunting of the President is nevertheless a passionate and worthy assault on an ugly period in our history; an anti-democratic scandal that happened right under our noses when we as a country were too busy worrying about Internet stock options to think that it really mattered.

The DVD includes footage of a 40-minute speech given by Clinton on stafe after the premiere of the film.


The Hunting of the President Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2004


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