I was very skeptical before seeing this movie. Title and premise of "Death of a President" led me, and probably others, to expect either a shallow Bush-bashing hack-job or some sort of bizarre, "24"-like "we against the evildoers" hero-epic in a cheap documentary costume.
I'm happy to report: I was wrong. "Death of a President" is a very well written, performed and directed drama in the style of a modern (and hardly opinionated) documentary. And most surprisingly, it isn't really a movie about George W Bush.
It was a very smart move to make it a "mock" documentary, since it keeps the viewer on a skeptical distance to all the protagonists, so the movie doesn't push the audience into immediately placing the characters into the "good" and "bad" categories like it would be the case with a drama done in a conventional narrative. That gives room to examine the characters different motives and actions without having to rely on pressing the emotion-buttons too much. Of course this approach relies on convincing performances from all actors involved (mabybe even more so than with a conventional drama) to keep the illusion alive of actually watching a documentary.... over-acting could have been a disaster for this movie, and i'm very glad cast and director avoided that pitfall. Fine performances all around.
Now, to the obvious elephant in the room (and the reason why this movie is so controversial): Why did the makers of the movie not just have a fictional president killed? Shock value? Some kind of perverse joy in getting rid of the real President? I don't think so.
First of all, having the real President Bush in the movie obviously makes this theoretical exercise just more authentic and convincing. And more importantly, the viewer is forced to place himself somewhere among the characters, to place his sympathy and antipathy bets just based on preconceived notions, so to speak. I doubt there are many people who don't have a clear opinion about George W Bush and his administration (I certainly have mine. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm no fan, to say the least). But that opinion (whatever it is) is important for the movie to get it's point across: it's the setup to play effectively with the viewers prejudices.
"Death of a President" manages to make you look beyond the stereotypes and makes a solid point about the misleading force of preconceived notions (for the viewer as well as the characters in the movie). The tag line "Do not rush to judge" is well chosen. The movie in particular makes a valid point about the worrying tendency in the US (and the world in general, I cant think of any society that's not to some degree affected by this "disease") of more and more dumbing everything down to "us versus them".
Be it the inflation of the word "Terrorist" as a magic opinion maker, (and drifting away from the movie for a second) be it Republicans versus Democrats, be it the insane shouting matches that pass as talk shows these days or be it the bizarre notion of an inevitable "clash of the civilizations".
The movie isn't perfect though. For example, the character of Bushs speech writer was a bit over the top in her praise for the man, while the protesting crowds remained rather stereotypical. Also, some doctored shots didn't quite live up to the otherwise impressive technical level of this production.
Yet "Death of a Presindent" offers a bit of much needed perspective on the Terrorism-issue; it sure does it by rather drastic means but it doesn't fail to deliver. Of course for me, as a distant observer of the USA, the fact that the actual President gets "assasinated" in this movie doesn't have quite the emotional punch as it must have for Americans. So I can understand the very mixed reactions it gets from reviewers.
But if you feel up to it, go see it yourself and then make up your mind, instead of rushing to judgment based on title and plot outline.
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