‘Law & Order’ With a Touch of Zapruder (New film: Death of a President)





Since it was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, “The Death of a President,” a formally clever fake-umentary directed by Gabriel Range, has attracted some fairly predictable controversy. Since the president in question is George W. Bush and the death is the result of an assassination, the film has become a lightning rod for the usual forms of self-righteousness that often masquerade as political discussion. On one side, howls of “How dare you?” and on the other, ringing endorsements of free expression and artistic courage.

But “The Death of a President” doesn’t really deserve either response, even though its makers and distributors will no doubt be happy to exploit the brouhaha. The best that can be said about Mr. Range’s opportunistic little picture is that, at least in its first half, it faithfully recreates the tone and rhythm of a second-rate American television program.

For a while, this is actually pretty riveting. The film pretends to be a look back at the events of Oct. 19, 2007, when Mr. Bush was shot and killed after delivering a speech in Chicago. After-the-fact interviews with witnesses and participants — a Secret Service agent, a presidential aide, various members of the F.B.I. and the Chicago Police Department (all actors, of course) — alternate with hand-held video, security-camera feeds and mock news clips to recreate the chaos of the event. Snippets of an actual speech Mr. Bush gave to the Economic Club of Chicago are used, and later on Ronald Reagan’s funeral is used as a stand-in for Mr. Bush’s.


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