"Chicago could be a tough city for protests, just like Portland or Seattle," recalls one of the fictitious government employees in Death of a President. He's remembering a particularly rough day in Chicago: October 19, 2007, when protestors clogged the streets and two bullets slammed into the chest of George W. Bush.
Such is the inflammatory premise of Death of a President, a British mockumentary that imagines a future assassination of America's not-so-beloved commander-in-chief. Blurring real footage and dramatized sequences, director Gabriel Range creates a faux documentary/faked historical document that feels eerily real; like some weird, time-traveling PBS special, the film's vérité style and disconcertingly convincing performances lend it a disturbing air of veracity.
But then the film spins into an ill-inspired direction. Regardless of how one feels about him, the idea of Bush being assassinated is fascinating—politically, culturally, and emotionally. But instead of exploring those avenues, Death of a President turns into a lame Law & Order episode, focusing more on who killed Bush rather than what a dead Bush would mean for America and the world. That idea is something major, and interesting, and important—but instead of examining what a Bush assassination would really mean, the film chickens out, gradually turning into a tiresome, red herring-filled melodrama. Which is too bad—for all that Death of a President could have said, it ends up saying almost nothing at all.