Death of a President
Taking the high road . . .
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught, return
To plague th' inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips." Macbeth
The faux-documentary Death of a President is not about Dick Cheney making a military state out of the US in 2007 after George W. Bush's assassination, nor is it primarily about Bush's blunders. It is about what the investigation into a presidential assassination would be like from the moment the bullets hit to the enduring mystery of responsibility.
Although this is not the slickest flick of the year, it is interesting to a filmgoer such as I for the inside look at security and investigation in matters that surround the White house. I am always titillated by black Caddy limos; dark suited, sun-glassed, scowling Secret Service agents; walkie talkie communications; and fawning presidential assistants. This film offers all those elements in a realistic fashion that makes assassination fictions such as The Sentinel seem like Saturday Night Live over-the-top satires.
The use of footage from contemporary TV clips to fictionalize, for instance, Cheney's eulogy of Bush is another of the film's strengths and warnings. By doctoring images or manipulating evidence, the government is in a position to rush to judgment about alleged assassins as it did about weapons of mass destruction. So the film is a laboratory itself in image altering with profound implications.
More than the authenticity of washed out images that complement the security camera images agents scour to find suspects, Death of a President ends up a successful, albeit subtle, screed against versions of the Patriot Act that in the future may seriously compromise the rights of innocent internationals who are caught in investigations with political agendas far outweighing the justice our constitution seemed to promise to those who come ashore. Of course, the subtext could be that none of these injustices would have happened if W had not been president, but the film takes the high road to show a generic scenario given the circumstances leading to such a tragedy a year from now.
An Arabic-speaking woman opens the film with the question about the assassin, "Why didn't he think about the consequences of his actions?" That's what Death of a President is about: the effects of acts such as violations of a president and a constitution.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com