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The Hunting of the President

The only 100% factual piece of information that can be reliably gleaned from this 2004 documentary about the legal investigations that marred Bill Clinton's presidency is that too little time has passed for any attempt at retrospect to escape the taint of partisan jockeying. Not that The Hunting of the President feigns any neutrality; co-directed by old Clinton friend and TV producer Harry Thomason (along with Nickolas Perry), and based on the book by political pundit Joe Conason (author of Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth) and reporter Gene Lyons, Hunting substantively amounts to little more than red meat for those who sweat in fear of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" often credited for plaguing the noble Clinton's attempts to govern. In the Thomason-Perry-Conason-Lyons worldview, the Washington establishment and mainstream media bristled at the 1992 election of populist outsider William Jefferson Clinton, and thus became pawns of a sinister right-wing attack machine bent on "destroying" both the president and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton via an unrelenting string of manufactured "scandals" exploited by the immense power of the politically motivated, unmerciful, and cravenly unethical Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. With great technical skill Thomason and crew (and narrator Morgan Freeman) zip through eight years of seamy allegations, accusations, highlights, and lowlights in 90 minutes, covering at a running pace Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and "The Starr Report," and a slew of unsavory Arkansas operatives, rarely slowing down to provide details or apply any scrutiny, except where it most embarrasses Clinton's political rivals (such as egovangelist Jerry Falwell's promotion of the paranoid and sordid fringe documentary "The Clinton Chronicles"). In this way, Hunting is all context and very little text: it aims to expose the nefarious circumstances in which Clinton was persecuted rather than focusing on the substance, or lack thereof, of the accusations themselves. Every mention of right-wing heavies like Ken Starr or Richard Mellon Scaife is accented by ominous fright music (veteran TV composer Bruce Miller's overzealous score borders on parody), and the visuals are aggressively punctuated with clips of silly found footage, which sometimes contribute absurdly literal exclamation points, but are mostly distracting non sequiters. While there is obvious talent behind this montage, the documentary is most effective when it slows down to tell a story, as it does with Susan McDougal, Clinton's Whitewater business partner and a convicted felon who spent two years in prison for refusing to testify to her involvement in the suspicious real estate deal. But lack of attention to detail, and reliance on spinmasters like Paul Begala and David Brock for insight, merely adds noise to a decade already echoing with partisan bluster, not clarity. Anyone looking for a new or revealing take on the political events of the 1990s will be disappointed by what feels like a 90-minute negative campaign ad, but perhaps taken as part of a diet of a wider range of reading materials, The Hunting of the President will provide some as-yet-still-murky anthropological value. While the feature is presented on Fox's DVD release in an anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, the one supplement provided on the disc is a show-stopper. Although President Clinton was not interviewed in the film, he did speak for 45 minutes following the film's premiere at New York University and offered, to a standing ovation, a discourse on the attacks against him, during which he masterfully presents himself as a victim/martyr/hero/underdog/revolutionary/aw-shucks-visionary chosen by conservatives as a convenient "enemy" following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Good stuff. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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