Thursday, October 12, 2006

Death of a President

Any Republicans reading may be reassured that Death of a President is neither sensational nor, frankly, that good. Filmed in the documentary style, it's a story set a few years down the line, George W. Bush is shot and killed, Dick Cheney becomes President and the FBI try to find who did it, a task slightly hampered by the fact that during the day had been one of the biggest anti-war/anti-Bush demonstrations in years.

The biggest problem is that the focus of the 'documentary' is all wrong. If someone like an American President is killed that's going to have a transformative effect on American society and the way it interacts with the outside world. For someone like Bush, who has done so much to drag down the outside world's opinion of his country whilst simultaneously pumping up the US's feelings of injured aggrievance, that's going to be multiplied. Therefore, a fake history story needs to look at the wider scale, not at a bunch of fictional people talking about the FBI investigating. DoaP mentions in an off-hand manner how President Cheney brings in the Patriot Act III to further restrict the freedoms of Americans and allow the authorities to further invade their privacy, we get no discussion of this and instead it proves to be useful to the FBI to help them find the guy they decide to convict with the killing. Similarly, a Muslim character fairly early on says something along the lines of "When I heard this has happened my first thought was: 'I hope it's not a Muslim that did this'." No mention is made on how Bush's death impacts on 'the War on Terror'. Does it allow the US to blame and invade another Islamic country? Does it allow President Cheney to withdraw from the conflicts the US is currently fighting? We don't find out.

The most satisfying part of the film is the pre-assassination sequence. The first fifteen/twenty minutes have people talking about a Presidential visit to Chicago, anti-war demonstrations that surprise the police with their ferocity, Bush's speechwriter and bodyguard sharing their perspectives of the day. After the bang (and here the drama departs from reality as, if it were really a Channel 4 documentary we'd get endless replays of the moment with a computer-enhanced view of the bullet burying itself in Bush's gut), which is not clearly shown on screen anyway, and the actors start trying to fight down their tears it all becomes a bit like pantomime.

Graphically the program looks good. There have been a few sniffs here and there about the quality of the audio and visual insertions but, apart from altering Cheney's address at Ronald Reagan's funeral to now be about George W. Bush, any others didn't stand out to me as obviously fake. The key scene where Bush is shot and the scene descends in to chaos, I couldn't be sure what exactly was real and what was faked. Despite what I said above the actors all play their parts well, such as they are. There is a certain naturalism to this, trying to act how we think real people would act, not how people in drama react.

In the end this is a fairly pedestrian piece that shouldn't be judged on Channel 4's pre-presentation hyperbole. It certainly shouldn't give any problems except to those who have difficulty distinguishing between fiction and reality. I suppose that's why conservatives have been complaining about it.

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