We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

In October 2007, while greeting the crowd just after a speech in Chicago, George W. Bush is hit by two bullets; he expires on the operating table a few hours later. That’s the central event in British director and co-writer Gabriel Range’s skillfully fabricated fake documentary, which elicited a mainstream-media tantrum when it first surfaced on the international film-fest circuit. Apparently, some Americans are so superstitious that they believe that simply pretending that Bush has been killed is powerful voodoo. But it’s not as if Range and co-writer Simon Finch are the first people to notice that a sitting U.S. president is a perennial target; of the eight chief executives since JFK’s death, two came close to assassination, and the hapless Ford was nearly plugged twice. What’s actually most striking about this fable is the way it’s constructed. Except for at the moment of impact, Bush is played not by an actor but by himself. Skillfully manipulating existing footage, the filmmakers construct nearly their entire story from video images of Bush, Cheney, and street protesters. President Cheney’s funeral oration for his predecessor, for example, is the same one the veep gave for Reagan, altered just by the name “George W. Bush.” Only the talking-head interviews with fictional federal agents, presidential aides, and relatives of suspected assassins are entirely new. Death of a President is a clever exercise, but one that anyone with contemporary digital-video editing software could duplicate, if perhaps not so seamlessly. So the movie attempts to go beyond stunt status by shifting into a murder-investigation procedural with a credible but obvious moral: Everything in the Bush–Cheney universe leads to the War on Terror. A Syrian immigrant is arrested for Bush’s murder on circumstantial evidence, while a more likely suspect is ignored. The problem with this is that both possible killers have all-too-understandable motives, while in the past most U.S. presidential assassins have been irrational at best. This movie simulates an assassination with impressive verisimilitude but misses an essential quality of Americans’ relationship with their president: its sheer absurdity.

—Mark Jenkins