Judge Brett Cullum always gets this confused with Herman's Head.
How did this happen?
There was a documentary this year that took a look inside the Presidency of George W. Bush, and asked "How did this man get here?." Unfortunately it opened a couple of months after a much-ballyhooed Michael Moore film, and therefore got little attention, when it really could have made a splash. The material had less to do with the current President, but instead focused on Karl Rove. You may not recognize the name right off the bat, but he is the senior advisor to President Bush. So Bush's Brain didn't quite have the thunder or weight of Fahrenheit 911. However, it's still worth a look if you lean to the Left and don't mind some Bush-bashing mixed in with a strong documentary.
Facts of the Case
Bush's Brain began as a novel by Wayne Slater and James Moore, two journalists who followed the 2000 presidential campaign. The book detailed a Svengali-like relationship between "Dubya" and his "mentor" Karl Rove, and painted Rove as the evil genius behind the stuttering Texas governor who became President. Rove is credited in the book and movie with perfecting "junkyard dog" politics, where you attack your opponent with everything you've got on them via whisper campaigns. You also let other people take the blame for saying outrageous things that would kill your campaign had you said them (like, say, attacking their military records). He's portrayed as a ruthless strategist who supposedly bugged his own office and blamed it on the competition just in time to win an election. If that allegation is true, the man is a political nightmare/genius who has used skullduggery and deceit to become one of the most powerful political consultants ever. What the film version of this novel does is quite interesting. It displays the usual "talking heads," but the documentary discussion is interspersed with readings from an actual Rove fax disputing all the "facts" presented. So you get Rove's reaction to the claims made by the book's authors—at least those that are selectively read to you. This doesn't make the film more balanced than the book—but it does make it a little more entertaining.
Both the film and DVD have been hastily put together just in time for the election season, so don't expect too many bells and whistles. But then again when do documentaries ever get commentaries or "making of" features? So it's no surprise that the DVD of Bush's Brain is a bare-bones affair. It has a short running time of eighty minutes, and a handful of previews for like-minded movies. The studio knows this isn't going to be found in many Republican Netflix cues (at least not admittedly), so the entire affair, down to its packaging, assumes you hate Bush—or at least that you'll be voting for Kerry. Speaking of Kerry, he and John Edwards need to sit down and analyze the film frame by frame. If these allegations are true, then the Rove attack on them has already started. And boy are they in for a ride!
Alright…Republicans, you will not find this film very interesting. You might as well click on the Reviews option near the top of this screen, and find a diatribe on the latest action release, because this film cannot possibly appeal to you if you support George W. Bush and the "War on Terrorism." Although the film doesn't attack Bush so much as it attacks Rove, it does make the President look like a puppet. According to this film, Bush is the equivalent of Scott Evil, just working for his nefarious evil genius "father" Rove. Run from this flick, Republicans; and sleep soundly thinking George W. Bush is the captain of his own ship. But let's be real here! Does anyone on either side think any modern day President operates without advisors? I loved certain things Reagan did, but his foreign policy was designed by a brilliant team of advisors the American people did not elect, or even know about in most cases. Bill Clinton balanced the budget, but was it him or a team of economic advisors? You can't make me believe that great men or leaders exist in a vacuum with no guidance or advice from anyone save the voices in their own head.
Now, to speak to the Democrats. Does it surprise you that campaigns are partisan and all about making the other guy look as bad as you can? What Bush's Brain offers you is an insider's tour of how Karl Rove has coached Junior to follow in his father's footsteps. George Bush the elder is, and always has been, a moral and balanced guy. He actually fired Rove from his campaigns. But for over thirty years, from a botched bid for Congress all the way to the White House, this political advisor has backed the younger Bush. Rove has hornswaggled and bamboozled every opponent the two have come across, and taught Bush and the Republicans how to fight fast and dirty. This film outlines their strategy, and gives you examples of how they use the media and the FBI to get anything they want or need to win an election. They follow the Vince Lombardi mantra of "Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing" to its Machiavellian extreme. Still believe those "Swiftboat Veterans" operated independently? This film will have you saying, "Not a chance in hell!"
Bush's Brain does a great job of running through this man's life, detailing how he got to be the political advisor often called the "co-President." Karl Rove keeps a purposefully low profile, but continually has his finger on (or perhaps his entire arm shoved up) George W. Bush. It's a documentary that you can believe more readily than Moore's treatise on the subject. The filmmakers definitely do a fine job of playing all the pathos to keep you engaged. It's quick and funny. About the only thing I saw wrong with the film was a brief interlude near the end where they detail a casualty of the Iraq war through the story of Fred Pokorney. As moving as that is, it has little to do with the real subject of the film. More horrifying are the allegations that Rove saw the Iraq war as little more than a marketing device to improve Bush's approval ratings. They aptly point out the fallacy of Bush's "I am a WAR President!" claim, when he and his entire team of consultants (Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice) are not veterans.
The film comes in full screen, and was shot on digital cameras. Not much to gripe about picture-wise. It's sparkling new, and has no artifacts or authoring problems. The basic sound mix appears in a Dolby 2.0 format. They've done a good job with the film, and I can't cite it for any technical gaffes other than the inherent bad quality of some of the news clips.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Rush is right. Just punch that Republican ticket option in the booth and be done with it all!
Okay, okay. The movie feels like it was rushed to be made, and it could have used some more development and expansion. The book is probably better, but it's fine. It's not nearly as much fun as Michael Moore, and it does go into some really dry topics. People not familiar with the political process or Texas political history may find it hard to follow.
Bush's Brain is not as flashy or wildly entertaining as Fahrenheit 911, but it's still compelling and deserves to be seen. It will inspire ire and screams from Republicans, and Democrats will find it absorbing and intelligent. It's certainly not as heavy-handed as Moore's work, and it's an easy eighty minutes in your DVD player. It's a great lesson in how politics really work. I'm all for any movie that makes you think, or lets you argue for hours after its done. I'm just amazed at how many of these documentaries are coming out. Have we ever had a President that got dissed so hard by the celluloid community? Movies have become the fourth estate. The revolution is being televised!
All you Democrats out there…this is mandatory viewing. You owe it to Kerry to learn how these tactics work, so you can recognize the Rove events as they happen. Unfortunately it looks like his plan is already in full swing. Rather was crucified, the Swiftboat Vets made a loud noise, and it should only get more and more intense as time marches on.
Guilty of making me want to vote Democratic. Bush's Brain is an important film right now, in the twilight of the election season of 2004. Unfortunately, it will probably fade away into the ether at the end of November. After that, it will be the perfect primer for any kid running for student council. You'll learn some great strategies on how to smear your opponents. But then if you're a good student, you've already learned your lessons, and maybe one day "You will be President."
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