Ben Oliver

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Death of a President

The whole case boiled down to a partial fingerprint.
23 April 2016

A fictional docu-drama that ‘retells’ the events of the assassination of George W. Bush in Chicago.

Set in 2007, Gabriel Range’s film manages to stage a chillingly accurate reconstruction of events that never even happened, using a clever mix of CG trickery, archival footage and good old photoshop. It’s an impressive display of how to build a ‘real’ narrative out of thin air.

The film starts with real scenes of a protest in Chicago in the build-up to a speech Bush was about to give at the Sheraton hotel. There’s footage of the speech itself, as well as footage of him going through the hotel and greeting members of the public. The actual ‘murder’ is spliced in so deftly that it’s very easy to suspend one’s disbelief for a while.

If you have seen footage of the assassination attempt on Reagan, or even the JFK murder, this film manages to set just the right tone. Big crowd, lots of nervy Secret Service agents and a care-free president.

So for the first hour at least this is an effective piece of work. Is it in poor taste to essentially plan the murder of a real person on screen? Probably. But it does enough to realistically paint a picture where this might happen. It’s interesting look into the delicate balance between allowing people to do their thing while maintaining security.

The weak parts of a project like this are always going to be the talking heads. No matter how good the actors are, you never forget that they are being paid to read a script. Range relies on them heavily to tell the story, and as the film wears on it begins to lose steam; there’s just not enough footage to back up what they say, so the whole narrative starts to rely on them.

The final straw comes with the closing credits, where a couple of lines flash up like ‘Law X was passed in the wake of these events’ or ‘Jim now lives with his family in Iowa’. In real documentaries these are mildly interesting at best, in this one it just drives home the fact that Range is making it up as he goes along.

Death of a President is a well put together film that fizzles out long before the end, getting bogged down in the details of its own story.