After “The Interview” imagined the death of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea went ballistic. The film was re-edited in response to the Hermit Kingdom’s concerns — and, even so, the rogue nation may have sponsored Sony hacking that resulted in racist e-mails about President Obama coming to light.
But a film about an imagined assassination of President George W. Bush got a somewhat different reception in 2006. “Death of a President,” directed by Gabriel Range and produced by British public-television outlet Channel 4, took a serious look at the consequences of killing No. 43.
“It struck me that imagining the assassination of President Bush was a very potent way of saying, ‘Where has the prosecution of the war on terror taken us?’ ” Range said. “The purpose of the film was not to imagine how the world stage would reset with the assassination of George Bush. The intent of the film is really to use the assassination of President Bush as a dramatic device — using the future as an allegory to comment on the past.”
Some, of course, loathed this conceit for a political thriller.”I think it’s despicable,” Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) — no fan of Dubya — said in 2007. “I think it’s absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.”
If a Democratic former first lady and U.S. senator from New York didn’t like the idea of “Death of a President,” it was no surprise Texas Republicans weren’t thrilled.
“I cannot support a video that would dramatize the assassination of our president, real or imagined,” Gretchen Essell, the party’s spokesman in the Lone Star State, said. “I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don’t know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that.”
Some media outlets refused to run ads for the movie and some movie theater chains refused to show it in theaters.
The reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW: chilly.
“We are not going to comment because it does not dignify a response,” the White House said.
Some comments even anticipated the hubbub over “The Interview.”
Yet, in some corners, “Death of a President” earned measured praise for its production value, if not its purpose. Exhibit A: Washington Post film review.
“Is it politically provocative agitprop or merely a cynical, exploitative stunt?” wrote The Post’s Ann Hornaday, who called the film’s premise incendiary. “Probably the latter, but one that has been performed with unusual dexterity. Structured like an installment of ‘Frontline,’ ‘DOAP’ often has the taut urgency of that PBS series, with witnesses providing a detailed tick-tock of events as they unfolded. Indeed, ‘DOAP’ is so convincing that, like most he-said, he-said documentaries, it eventually suffers from a fatal, talking-head inertness.”
Despite the alleged inertness, “Death of a President” won an award at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was the film to see.
“Publicists representing ‘D.O.A.P’ seem to spend all their time rebuffing pleas for tickets. As one said, ‘It’s like being the big-breasted blond woman on the beach in a tiny bikini,’ and everyone wants a look,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted.
Range said his film wasn’t a leftist jeremiad. “If people go to the cinema expecting to have some great moment of catharsis watching the president being shot, I suspect they’re in for a pretty big surprise,” the director said. “I think that anyone who’s expecting this to be a liberal wet dream is in for quite a shock … It was very important that the film was not a political rant. It was not just a condemnation or polemic because I think that polemics are easy to dismiss.”
Here’s a clip from the film. Watch Bush get his at 2:05 — and be warned that, while not as violent as the leaked conclusion of “The Interview,” it’s gnarly.