If the politics of documentarians Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob aren't exactly clear from the title of their film (taken from the snickering name of the book by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater about Machiavellian White House adviser Karl Rove), they will be a few minutes into the movie. That's when we jump from a clip of George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration to an all-uppercase on-screen title, which asks rhetorically, against a black background, "HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?" Well, Mealey and Shoob are about to tell you.
Aided not just by appearances by Moore and Slater, who -- hint, hint -- subtitled their book, "How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential," "Bush's Brain" introduces us to many who have known, worked and tangled with the man some call Bush's "co-president" during his multi-decade involvement in Republican politics. Going back to Rove's college years, "Bush's Brain" details a litany of the dyed-in-the-wool political operative's shady dealings, including the 1986 Texas gubernatorial race between Republican Bill Clements, for whom Rove worked, and Democratic incumbent Mark White. In that now long-forgotten incident, Rove was accused of planting a listening device in his own office in order to smear his opponent's camp as spies. The filmmakers are able to find no shortage of acquaintances, former friends, co-workers and journalistic observers (as well as unabashed enemies) of Rove willing to trot in front of the camera to trash him. From former Texas governor Ann Richards to former senator Max Cleland, both of whom have no love lost for Rove, we listen to one putative back-stabbing victim after another.
Rove, of course, declined to defend himself on camera, although he did send the book's authors a detailed rebuttal of their accusations, which the movie takes gleeful pleasure in itemizing (and refuting). Some of Rove's alleged dirty tricks come across as kind of amusing, and a few people who appear in the film to diss him even manage to laugh themselves. But more of his shenanigans are scary rather than funny, especially when they involve allegations of not just character assassination but, worse, war opportunism (in Rove's promotion of 9/11 as a lever for political advantage). Then, the movie is downright chilling.
BUSH'S BRAIN (PG-13, 80 minutes) --Contains some obscenity. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.