Kevin here again, with a breaking news update from Toronto: no matter how hard I try, no matter how many mountains I climb, no matter how many festival volunteers I attempt to charm (OK, bribe), fate has decided I shall not see 'Death of a President.' The uber-controversial docudrama from across the pond that depicts the assassination of George W. Bush played once again for press last night, and once again I was denied due to a massive turnout.
Controversy aside, the film has received mixed reviews. From the Hollywood Reporter's Kurt Honeycutt: "As convincing as the manipulated footage of the President's death in Chicago in October 2007 is, the movie itself cannot be more unconvincing in its approach." Variety's Todd McCarthy, meanwhile, questioned its moral fiber but admitted, "Technically, the film is exceptional."
But while the movie gods may have succeeded in keeping me out of 'D.O.A.P.,' they damn sure weren't going to deny me the festival's other buzzed-about assassination movie, 'Bobby.' Directed by Emilio Estevez (yes, the Man is at Work!), the star-studded drama imagines the not necessarily related events leading up to RFK's killing at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel on the day of June 4, 1968.
Judging from the ensemble's large roster of stars, the film was apparently cast and shot backstage at an awards show somewhere. It's not really a matter of who's in it, but who's not. (Like Mel Gibson. Sucka.) But you do have Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Nick Cannon and many, many more (see full cast listing). Ironically, the film's major fault is that there are too many storylines involved, especially because some aren't nearly as interesting as others. As a whole they represent a sort of cultural framework of the late '60s, and some may find it odd that RFK has such little presence in a film named for him. But 'Bobby' does boast one of the strongest, most affecting climaxes I've seen in years, and in turn makes the film a success.
There's never been a shortage of political films at the Toronto fest (especially those critical of U.S. policies), and top billing among this year's slate has to go to the radiant Dixie Chicks documentary, 'Shut Up and Sing.'Barbara Kopple's depiction of the country trio, who plummeted from the "Top of the World" to the depths of career suicide for one simple sentence/biting political statement ("We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas") is an intimate and honest look at show business and a nation divided.
Firebrand lead singer Natalie Maines remains unapologetic, and sometimes even vengeful. In the film's most talked about moment, she watches as Bush publicly acknowledges the controversy, saying something to the effect of "They have the freedom to get their feelings hurt. Freedom is a two-way street." Maines replies to the camera: "You dumb f***."
Though the Dixie Chicks fan base has diminished Down South, folks may be a lot more receptive to this film in 2006. Just look at the president's approval rating: It now seems 68% of Americans are ashamed the President of the United States is from the United States.