Before he made Death of a President, director Garbriel Range directed a faux documentary about a transportation stoppage in London. That film, The Day Britain Stopped, was a proactive what-if scenario based on a premise so utterly uninteresting the film hasn’t even been released on DVD.
You can stream the film on the BBC website, which is how I saw Range’s uncontroversial transportation documentary. Considering just how interesting and engaging a film about cars stuck on a highway was, there was hope the more inflammatory topic of Bush’s assassination would make an even better film.
Death of a President is a "documentary" filmed in 2008 about the imaginary October 19, 2007 assassination of President Bush. It is too easy of an indictment of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, one any person watching the news could have made. It follows the lies, deceit, and intelligence failures that lead to the rushed arrest of a Syrian national for Bush’s murder, while investigators disregard contrary evidence to reach the conclusion they want. Fahrenheit 9/11 was less contrived.
The film’s success comes in the beginning, mostly, when it chronicles the moments leading up to the assassination. There is a tangible edge to the film, one not from the coming assassination, but from the thousands of protesters on the streets.
Many times in the film there is a mention of “hatred” towards the president. We see it in the protesters’ signs and in their chants. We get an idea from their response to the shooting, some excitedly screaming, “They shot Bush!” Yet, there isn’t a common sense approach to counter this antagonism. Is it really a good thing that a president is killed? What were the costs? (Other than Cheney becoming president, of course.)
Had the film been the sensationalist tripe many American commentators said it was, Death of a President would have been a better film. Instead of challenging, we get a socially conscious, documentary version of Mark Walhberg’s The Shooter.
A film about the assassination of a sitting president better justify its existence by being both smart and difficult. Death of a President is neither. That's more unfortunate for the filmmakers than it is for the audience because a bad “controversial” film will go nowhere. Even with a DVD release, it’s hard to imagine Death of a President evening gaining a following among the biggest Bush opponents.
DVD extras you can watch if you decide to see this film include interviews with the filmmakers and a director's commentary track.