Saturday, October 28, 2006

Death of a President (2006)

Death of a President (Gabriel Range, 2006)

Gabriel Range's Death of a President has made quite a controversy ever since it opened during the Toronto Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI prize. It's not surprising. The film practically hypothesizes a scenario wherein United States President George W. Bush gets assassinated on October, 2007 after giving a speech in Chicago, Illinois. It doesn't merely hypothesize, as Range films the events in documentary fashion completely blurring the lines between truth and fiction. Real footages of Bush, his vice president Cheney are seamlessly edited along with fabricated interviews of actors and actresses portraying the roles of Bush's speech maker, a journalist for a major newspaper, FBI investigators, and forensics expert. Special effects and aural enhancements are introduced, if needed. If anything, Death of a President is a wonderful example of what could've been a compelling practical joke, the same way Peter Jackson nearly made the world believe that there exists forgotten films and city-sized sets in the jungles of New Zealand in Forgotten Silver (1995) .

The film has very haunting predictions. Cheney succeeds Bush, Jr. and turns the assassination into a repeat of 9/11 turning the American government into a cabinet of paranoids and conspiracy theorists, even more than now. Basically, Range says that Cheney would start making connections to another probable war with a Middle Eastern nation, simply because a Muslim was found to be working in the same building where the killing bullet came from. Equally horrifying is the resulting veneration that is given to the assassinated president --- such veneration would've been impossible in our present times wherein America is in the middle of a war based on lies, and because of that, allowed North Korea to actually make its own nuclear bombs. Where else would you hear statements like "he has a strong heart for a man his age," if not after a conceived tragedy?

Then Range suddenly makes a mistake. Just when he establishes a clever conspiracy theory connecting 9/11 to the death of Bush, Jr. to a possible retaliation against another Muslim nation, to what could've been total apocalypse, he devolves the film into a CSI-type investigation/procedural. It might have still worked if Range still kept the worldwide repercussions of the assassination in mind, but instead, he focuses on the causes for the assassination which I thought was not really new. The reasons provided by Range was done by Joe Dante with much more humor and creativity in Homecoming (2006). True, Range successfully made his film more human, much more emotionally poignant instead of merely political, but what's the point of hypothesizing Bush, Jr.'s assassination if you really don't have anything political or groundbreaking to say?

But Range makes it clear that his film is fictional, lessening the impact of his film (one can only imagine if Range had the balls of Michael Winterbottom or Michael Moore). It is this cinematic pussyfooting that keeps Death of a President from truly being the "snuff film" it has been described as. Instead, Range doesn't really tell what we already don't know. His clever hypothesizing structured in quasi-reality does disturb and compel you to think, but it never really rouses you to heightened emotions --- unlike let's say Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo (2006) which features an uncompromising message within its reenactments and its many interviews of the Tipton Three.

It's still a good film. I was jolted to see George W. Bush actually being shot since I couldn't believe how realistically it was done (the scene was digitally enhanced of course, Bush is still living and breathing in the White House). The film is made with a believable intensity that could've fooled an unwary viewer who was not able to see that the supposed assassination is in the future. Despite its rather predictable ending which turned the film into a mere rehash of what we already know (of course, not the future part, that's entirely fictional), the film still contains enough drama, enough hard hitting controversy to make this a worthwhile cinematic experience.

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