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Death of a President

Film Three Stars

I saw Death of a President just the other evening and I was very surprised. All this hype about the controversy and the cinema chains in the US refusing to show the film seems to be a lot of shouting for nothing.

The film is certainly controversial for the political futures that it hints at and the suggestions of the true cost of this War on Terror, but actually these are all things we know already, and within the film they are slightly mishandled and seem to lack the impact that those who don't want us to see it would have us believe.

GeorgeBush.jpgThe film shows the fictional events of the not too distant future as viewed after the events by those involved. Filmed in a documentary style it shows the assassination of President Bush as he prepares his country for possible war against North Korea and continues to defend the ongoing deployment of troops in Iraq, then it turns to the hunt for the assassin himself. The authorities soon pick up various suspects and seem to settle on an American born, Syrian descended man. Despite having extremely weak evidence he his selected as the prime candidate for the assassin.

What follows from there makes the majority of the film and what are the real key messages. The actual assassination plays a set-up role in the plot and sits very much behind the story and the key themes. Sure we see a few brief moments of Bush being shot, but it's not very in your face and incredibly well done. Soon he is in hospital and his condition getting more and more serious. What we see are some excellent scenes of people recounting their thoughts and fears at those moments, and some press conferences and interviews which set the scene and are very well directed and acted.

There are some key scenes with demonstrators and riot police early on in the film which are key to setting the tone of the early sequences, and are quite poorly visualised. Riot police are sparse and without proper equipment, and the whole demonstration looks like twenty or thirty people with a few police littered around. None of these scenes convince the audience enough to believe that there are widespread demonstrations which are over running police resources. Indeed it does look like a low budget film set.

The power of the film though is in the second half, the investigation of the assassination itself and who really is the murderer, this is where the real hard hitting part of the film is, but the filmmakers seem to fumble these key moments and fail to capitalise on their power.

The reveal isn't built upon nor does it blindside you, it's merely shown as spoken fact. The same goes for the closing credits which tell and even more shocking story of the future, and yet these are left to the very end and told in a few lines of text.

This is where the balance and focus of the film fails for me. Too much has been put on the assassination itself (both in and outside of the film) and not enough on the real messages which are the assassin, the political future of America and what that means to the innocents of the country.

Afterwards I felt I was left with unanswered questions. For instance who really was the assassin, for there is certainly still a level of doubt around that, and what the title sequence tells us about events and how the affected the country. These are important questions and it felt as though they should have been addressed before the credits rolled.

Manipulative it most certainly is, but it is that way for a definite purpose, and a strong and positive one, however mishandled it seems by the end of the film, the messages are still there and clear. Interestingly enough, and bear in mind I am not American, I was more shocked at the filmmakers use of Ronald Reagan's funerl footage for the fictional Bush funerl than I was of any other event in the film. It certainly does not disrespect President Bush, no more than any other political film which shows the current trend in American politics.

All that said, the film is well put together and manages to maintain tension throughout. Scenes that have been digitally recreated are for the most part convincing, however there are times when you can easily see that these are computer generated, and in a way that allows the shooting scenes to be more acceptable because it's quite obvious they aren't real.

I would suggest that you do try and see this film because it does have an important message to be told, you just have to pull it out and avoid its attempts to focus on the wrong areas. I don't believe this film should be banned, there are many other films showing the assassination of Presidents both past, future and fictional, there are far more politically angled films than this, and there are far more realistic and scaremongering films. This one may have elements of all of these, but it also has some very strong warnings and messages for those who forget the rights of the individual.

My mind is cast back to Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast and wonder of the comparisons that could be made between these two works which portray reality as entertainment and political (or in Welles case social) subtext.


UK IMDB Film Details





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Movable Type 3.34