Controversial ‘President’ Surprisingly Even-Handed

‘The 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, died a short while ago. He was 61.’
Relax. It’s only a movie.
Specifically, it’s Gabriel Range’s ‘Death of a President,’ now in theaters. Through archival footage, one-on-one interviews and computer-generated effects, ‘President’ recounts, several years after the fact, the fictional assassination of President Bush on Oct. 19, 2007.
Range dives into the inner-workings of the presidential retinue, and the story of the events leading up the assassination is told first-hand primarily by Bush’s speechwriter, a reporter in the press corps, the former head of the Secret Service and others close to the president. The bulk of the film, however, focuses on the resulting investigation wherein the FBI, forensics investigators and even suspects take center stage.
Ultimately, however, this is less about Bush than it is about a broader question: What happens when a president is assassinated? It’s no accident that this mockumentary is titled ‘Death of a President’ instead of ‘Death of the President.’ This seems a natural fit for Range, whose previous films, including the critically acclaimed ‘The Day Britain Stopped,’ all rely on the authority of the documentary form to posit chilling ‘What if?’ scenarios.
It’s somewhat disappointing, then, that ‘President’ feels so strongly like someone else’s film. Its first-person narrative style, slow-motion re-enactments and lack of a voice-over are reminiscent of the works of Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris, especially his ‘The Thin Blue Line’