From HBO Documentary Films comes 41, an authorized account of the life of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush. Being an “official story” made with the full cooperation of the former President, don’t expect anything more than a straightforward, relatively superficial telling of key events in an extraordinary life. When it comes right down to it, 41 is nothing more than an extended interview. There isn’t any historical perspective other than what we hear from the man himself.
That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if director Jeffrey Roth had probed deeper (or been allowed to probe deeper). We hear Roth’s questions, barely audible at times, off screen. The few instances where he attempts a follow-up question, the former President shuts him down fairly succinctly. Bush tells his story from childhood to present day, never really going further than what can be a read in an online biographical summary. Considering the fascinating career Bush had, the film could’ve been a revealing portrait under ideal circumstances. As it turned out, it covers the basics of his early life, military service, and the various stages of his political career, culminating with his single term as President of the United States.
In fact, one has to wonder if Roth had anything to work with at all when it came to the most interesting years of Bush’s life. Early on, Bush seems more comfortable talking about his formative years and early personal life. Easily the most emotionally moving segment deals with the passing of George and Barbara Bush’s first daughter, Robin, at the age of four. But once we get further into the political arena, especially his two terms as President Reagan’s Vice President and Bush’s own Presidency, most of what we see is covered by montages of vintage news footage. There is barely any elaboration on most topics, resulting in a strangely non-engaging viewing experience.
The 100-minute film is presented by HBO Home Entertainment as a bare bones DVD. There are no extra features of any kind. For those without any knowledge of the basic timeline of the first President Bush’s life and times, 41 is certainly not the worst starting place. It’s a classy production, aided greatly by a rather understated score by Mark Kilian. But it must be acknowledged that the film comes across as a piece primarily intended to bronze President Bush’s legacy, deftly skirting any deeper issues.