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The Prosecution of an American President demonstrates that you can be deeply sympathetic to a film’s arguments and still come away feeling unconvinced. Dave Hagen and David J. Burke’s documentary based on Vincent Bugliosi’s incendiary 2008 book features the famed former prosecutor passionately making the case that our 43rd president should literally be tried for the murders of over 4,000 soldiers killed during the Iraq War, not to mention countless Iraqi civilians. It’s a dubious legal concept, as Alan M. Dershowitz comments onscreen, but there’s no denying the forcefulness of the presentation.
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Bugliosi, best known for his prosecution of Charles Manson, has since weighed in on such cases as the Kennedy assassination and the O.J. Simpson trial via best-selling books. This film is largely composed of a filmed lecture delivered to a rapt audience of UCLA law students.
Little that’s presented here is revelatory, since many of the arguments have been previously made in innumerable previous films and books decrying the Bush administration’s alleged deliberate falsehoods in presenting their case for war before the American public and international community. But Bugliosi’s undeniable prosecutorial expertise makes them both intellectually cogent and deeply emotional.
Still, his quest for a principled state or city district attorney to put forth such an indictment seems utterly quixotic. And the film’s endless use of archival footage depicting the war’s grisly aftermath, as well as its repeated images of Bush looking smug, silly or condescending, mainly smacks of a manipulation that even Michael Moore would find embarrassing.
Opens Oct 12 (Lost Soldier Films)
Directors: Dave Hagen, David J. Burke
Screenwriter: Vincent Bugliosi
Producer: Jim Shaban
Executive producers: Nathan Folks, Peter Miller, D. Channsin Berry
Director of photography: Francis Kenny
Editors: Dave Hagen, Brian Singbiel
Composer: Kenneth Lampi
Not rated, 101 min.
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