Occasionally, on the festival circuit, there's a movie that garners significant press before it even opens, and mainstream press at that. The controversy could be political, artistic or any one of a number of things. This year at Toronto, the as-yet-unseen-but-buzzed-about buzz flick was Death of a President -- a British mockumentary promising a look at a hypothetical 2007 assassination of George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States. Coyly listed in the program guides as D.O.A.P., the film's mere existence and outline caused a controversy, and incited strong feelings from both the Right-wing blogosphere and Kevin Costner (raising the question of which of those is actually less relevant). Political filmmaking about what-ifs is nothing new, nor are mock-docs about politically charged realities. C.S.A: The Confederate States of and It Happened Here both come to mind, as well as much of the work of Peter Watkins. Death of a President, it seemed, might be the newest entry into the field. Or public outrage over its essential plot might make the film disappear, a casualty of a just-declared War on Premises. ...
The proof, however, would be in the pudding -- and today on an overcast
Toronto morning, the line for the pudding went around the block from the
Cumberland theater. Having seen the film, I'll share the following observations about Death of a President:
First, the press-and-industry screening this morning did, in fact, receive some applause as the credits rolled -- neither timid golf-claps nor an exultant celebration, but some. The second fact about Death of a President
is even more stark and essential: It's not very good. Death of a President
is not made as a broad-scale look at what might happen to the world, the state of things in the event of the murder of George W. Bush, or whoever may hold the office of the presidency. It's a tired, tedious mix of procedural-style storytelling, in which we're asked to engage in a slow-crawl mystery: Who really killed George W. Bush in October, 2007?