Grade: B-Hunting of the President, The (2004)

Director: Nickolas Perry, Harry Thomason

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Bill Clinton, Keneth Starr, Susan McDougal

Release Company: Regent Releasing

MPAA Rating: NR

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Bill Clinton: The Hunting of the President


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President Clinton Dances with His Wife Hillary at the Veterans Ball Monday
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In the wake of Michael Moore's unprecedented Fahrenheit 9/11 success, additional left wing documentaries are hitting theaters during the two months before the 2004 elections—the major ones being Outfoxed (about the blatantly right wing Fox Network) and The Hunting for the President (about the relentless right wing attacks against President Clinton). None of these documentaries claim enough balance to show independently on PBS, but each contains important information to counter the increasingly conservative tenor found in mainstream political coverage. Moore's film is the slickest, funniest, and most entertaining of the lot, but Regent Releasing's expose on the ten year crusade to destroy Clinton is likely to invoke the most anger.

While conservative viewers are likely to rekindle their Clinton hatred, moderates and liberals that sit through The Hunting for the President are certain to become incensed that $80 million dollars of tax money and even more time was wasted on politically motivated investigations and impeachment proceedings that were nothing more than an attempted right-wing coup d'état. And the media got sucked up into the whole process, with editors and reporters dreaming of becoming the next Woodward and Bernstein. On the very day that President Clinton addressed the United Nations on what he considered the most serious international issue—terrorism—the front page story of the day was the breaking news about Monica Lewinsky. Now viewed with the perspective of 9/11, how the hell did we allow this all to happen?

Personally, I began to suspect that there was a wide ranging right wing campaign against President Clinton in the early 90's listening to a prominent and well connected businessman rant uncontrollably against the President at a large Amway convention. With this leader's association with Reverend Jerry Falwell and numerous conservative politicians and business people, it was rather scary to hear Clinton personified in terms generally reserved for the Devil. So deep was the vitriol against the President. And why was this so? As a charismatic leader with a conciliatory nature, Clinton strove to lead through a great deal of consensus building and was often criticized by his fellow Democrats as being "too conservative."

Chronologically constructed and gravely narrated by Morgan Freeman, The Hunting for the President is Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason's video version of Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' book of the same name. I've not read that, but have read other chronicles that detail much of the same territory in Hillary Clinton's biography and Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. Of course, anyone that follows current events will find the material familiar. Perry and Thomason simply select news archive material and insert interviews to show how the right wing attack dogs orchestrated their campaign to discredit and destroy President Clinton.

The film consists of mostly talking heads that limits its cinematic appeal, and some of the inserts are rather amateurish and cliché (like the "subliminal" flame image to accompany the "where there's smoke, there's fire" phrase). However, patient viewers witness a parade of scary characters that range from Little Rock operatives Larry Nichols (a rebuffed office seeker), Cliff Jackson (jealous Clinton Oxford classmate), and muckraking detective Larry Case to Reverend Falwell (who claims neutrality despite promoting "The Clinton Chronicles" and its charges of murder and dope peddling on his "Old Time Gospel Hour" television show) to archive footage of the strongly partisan Republican Kenneth W. Starr, who emerges as the real "heavy" in the documentary. Adding heart and courage is a tearful Susan McDougal, who relates the pressures she was under to lie under oath and how her refusal cost her relationship to her husband along with an unjust prison sentence.

The Hunting of the President will never screen widely, and it's a surprise that it's making its way into a few arthouse theaters instead of a direct to video/DVD release. Hardly an entertaining film, the documentary must be classified as an important political film that is worth seeing—a 90 minute short cut that makes coherent sense of the source material to chronicle a tale that rightfully questions the underbelly of American politics and examines the scandal mongering of mainstream journalism in the wake of a right-wing media manipulation. Be sure to sit through the end credits for some of the "funnier" bits, including a listing of the key figures who refused contemporary interviews and for Starr's wish to sit down over lunch with the Clintons. Don't expect that open request to ever be honored. And don't expect to laugh like most will during a Michael Moore film; you'll more likely walk out mad as hell and swear you won't take it any more!
 


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