Death of a President
written by Gabriel Range and Simon Finch
directed by Gabriel Range
This is the controversial British television movie broadcast in the U.K. last year. I read about it at the time. Of course it is in bad taste to make a film about the assassination of a living head of state, which accounts for the controversy of the film. But it is not a‘how to’ film about how to go about killing a president. Death of a President is a faux documentary. It’s very good on that point, too. With a clear disclaimer at the start of this 97-minute story that the White House, the U.S. government, the FBI and the City of Chicago (where the events are set) neither approved of, participated in nor gave permission for the content, director Gabriel Range goes about manipulating archival footage of real public personalities, using digital technology to alter photographs and videos, and actors to flesh out the story to very good effect. The result is that it is a believable faux documentary. I mean, if a person did not know better, one could believe it is a true after-the-fact news documentary of real events.
I hesitated to rent the DVD not because of any objection to its content (of which I was already aware following last year’s controversy surrounding its broadcast in the U.K.). Instead, because I knew that it was a British made-for-TV movie I feared the notoriously low British production values - the same low production values that turn shows like Dr. Who, Monty Python and others into revered cult classics worshipped by armies of the undead geeks. But it wasn’t so bad after all.
President Bush is gunned down by a sniper after speaking to business leaders at a downtown Chicago hotel. I suppose that city was chosen as the setting because of its lingering reputation as a focus of political violence - a leftover from the riots in the city during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention there. (Remember Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies? I met Abbie Hoffman after a speaking engagement at Queen’s University in Ontario: my brush with fame.) The assassination itself was so low key and so fast I had to rewind and watch it again. The focus of the story was on (fake) investigative news interviews with FBI, Secret Service, Chicago Police and White House officials - all convincingly played by actors.
George W. Bush is arguably the worst president in U.S.history, and clearly a terrorist and a war criminal under international law (which is spurned by the U.S.). But of course he will enjoy life-long immunity from prosecution. But the film makes us think about the enmity that this man has inspired.