Death of a President

Death of a President

I will defend Gabriel Range’s Death of a President’s right to exist until the end of the earth. I won’t, however, actually defend the film that Range has made. While its use of special effects and archival footage successfully creates the illusion that we are watching a retrospective program about George W. Bush’s assassination in Chicago in 2007, D.O.A.P can’t follow up its much anticipated money shot with anything absorbing or original.

In the film, when the president is gunned down, panic erupts. Dick Cheney assumes the presidency and Patriot Act III is enacted. A young Muslim who displayed questionable taste in vacation choices is fingered and convicted. Meanwhile, the real culprit turns out to be a Gulf war vet from small town Illinois.

If I hadn’t been a sentient being for the last five years, I might have found Range’s hypothetical future shocking—or at least intriguing. Unfortunately, I’ve been here all along. I know about the myriad ways in which the Bush administration has bent and warped the truth to meet its ends. I know about Guantanamo and the Maher Arar case. I know how post-9/11 panic allowed the Republican Party to stomp all over civil liberties.

Range’s film is thus really about the past more than it’s about the future. He’s using a titillating intellectual game of “What if?” to talk about what happened in the wake of September 11th. The only problem is that this game needn’t have been about the assassination of a president; it could just as easily have been about another terrorist attack on US soil. Range smartly exploits our grisly fascination with presidential assassinations past but, once you get past that, his film is a snooze.

The first thirty minutes of D.O.A.P. are the only ones possessing any tension. Weaving seamlessly between archival footage, shots of a seething, anti-war Chicago crowd and interviews with secret service agents and presidential aides, Range keeps us on the edge of our seats—despite the fact that we know exactly what’s coming. That’s what we’re all here for and we know it. We’ve heard that Range uses the situation to make a point. But, if we’re honest, all we want is the mild frisson that Bush’s death will provide. Only later, when the film’s sluggish and soporific, Law and Order-style courtroom plot has played itself out, does the truth become clear: without Dubya’s imaginary death, Range’s flick would never have made it to the big screen at all. This just isn’t that great a film.

Death of a President is now playing at Canada Square (2190 Yonge St.), Eglinton Town Centre (1901 Eglinton Ave. E.), Paramount (259 Richmond St. W.) and others