Death of  a President - SIMMERING

Where were you?

Where were you the day that President George W Bush was shot?

Thankfully, it's a hypothetical question, but it's a question we might ask ourselves in the world conjured up by British writer-director Gabriel Range and co-writer Simon Finch.

Death of a President is a fictional drama, but it is shot in documentary style using actual newsreel footage (sometimes digitally altered), some actual documentary footage they shot themselves,  and other documentary techniques, including fictional interviews. In this weay the filmmakers can tell the 'story' -from a standpoint one year later - of the imagined assassination of George W Bush, in October 2007.

The mere idea of this has provoked a hostile reaction in some quarters.  Hilary Clinton called it 'despicable' - without having seen the film. The director maintains that he wanted to use the assassination of the President 'as a device to tell  a story about the current political climate and what has happened in the last five years.'

So is it a serious film? Does it handle this horrendous premise appropriately? I think so.  Many critics agree.  The film won
won the International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival. The Chicago Sun-Times said that thefilm 'may be even necessary to an understanding of George W Bush's role in the world today. You see, the accused is a Muslim man originally from Syria.

Lawyers will find especially interesting the film's exploration of America's reaction to the President's death. Under President Dick Cheney, aides move quickly to establish the guilt of the chosen suspect. Forensic tests that are initially 'inconclusive' must be
'looked at again' to strengthen a weak case. The Patriot Act III is passed to give the government greater powers of surveillance and arrest. The US Ambassador is recalled from Syria when Syria refuses to co-operate with a request for information about the suspect. It's shaping up like Iraq all over again. But do they have the right suspect in custody? Does anyone care?

Though playing out like a forensic thriller, this film is an intelligent examination of paranoia in action. The FBI jump to the conclusion that the Prsident has been killed by Al Quaeda operatives,and so suspicion falls on people with Arabic names.  The FBI Investigator denies this is racial profiling. It is, he says, just a 'common-sense approach'. And whgen Syria refuses to hand over the suspect's  army records, the govenment accuses it of 'stonewalling', which somehow escalates into 'a heinous act of terrorism' and 'state sponsored terrorism'.  

Technically, the film is clever and almost seamless. In a way it is like the recent, excellent  United 93,  in that  it's a  controversial, even frightening, idea for a film, but it is a one that must be seen by anyone who cares about freedom, justice and the rules of evidence.