Other movies did assassination better than The Interview

We can all agree that movie theaters and Sony Pictures were wrong to cave to cyberterrorism threats from North Korean hackers over the release of a movie about an assassination attempt on leader Kim Jong Un. But aside from the important First Amendment principles, is this much of a loss?

The Interview sounded like a pretty dismal movie — the few reviews that have been released called it juvenile, crude, and not funny. A buddy movie with Seth Rogen and James Franco overacting doesn’t sound very appealing — to me, anyway.

This is not meant to downplay the importance of the First Amendment and the right to the freedom of self-expression. But there have been books, TV shows, movies, and even a Broadway musical that have dealt with the assassination or attempted assassination of U.S. presidents before. Those are usually in the fictional realm, and they’ve been much more entertaining.

In West Wing, what is thought to be an assassination attempt on President Jed Bartlett was actually aimed at an African-American aide dating the president’s daughter. In Scandal, the assassination attempt on President Fitzgerald Grant fails, and the wrong guy is arrested. In 24, President David Palmer is faced with assassination attempts both before and after he’s elected. Much more fun, and more interesting.

The Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins features several assassins and would-be assassins throughout history. It won five Tony Awards, but was never a huge hit.

In the Line of Fire, a film focusing on a Secret Service agent played by Clint Eastwood and a would-be assassin played by John Malkovich, was pretty good as a thinking action movie.

The Day of the Jackal is a film classic about an assassin plotting to kill French President Charles de Gaulle. He, obviously, was a real president, but he was out of office when the 1973 film came out, even though the story was based on a real reported failed plot. It scored one Oscar nomination and won several Golden Globe awards.

For my mind, the 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate remains the best movie about an assassination attempt, based on a book by Richard Condon. I wouldn’t want to give away too much if you haven’t seen it, but it dealt with the Cold War, presidential politics, brainwashing, and family dynamics. It received two Oscar nominations. The 2004 remake wasn’t as good.

There have been a few films about the Kennedy assassination: JFK and Executive Action. There was a film called The Assassination of Richard Nixon, based on a true story about a would-be assassin who wanted to kill Nixon by driving a plane into the White House. You think maybe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed heard about this idea before he thought up the 9/11 airline hijacking plans?

A 2006 “mockumentary” called Death of a President is a British film covering the fictional assassination of President George W. Bush. I had never heard of it before all of the Interview brouhaha. It played at film festivals in 2008, was released in the United States for all of two weeks, and never made much of an impact.

In the film, Bush was supposedly killed in 2007. His killing is blamed on a Syrian man, and now-President Dick Cheney ties the assassination to al-Qaeda. The new president also uses it as an excuse to further enlarge detention and surveillance powers. And it turns out the guilty party is really a Persian Gulf War veteran who recently lost a son in the Iraq war. Reviews were mixed (mostly negative), although the film won several awards.

Personally, I think movies advocating the actual assassination of real sitting leaders are in poor taste. We all can think of leaders we wish weren’t in power, but do we really want to go that far? I know I would be offended if another country released a movie that killed off President Obama. Heck, I never saw the British Death of a President, but after reading about it, I don’t want to, either.

There have been scads of books written about the Kennedy assassination and its many conspiracy theories. Fiction about attempted presidential assassinations? Too much to count. There have been stories and poems about political assassinations going all the way back to the year 800. They’ve been written worldwide. Some involve spies; some are science fiction. One interesting one is Z, both the novel and film, which is a thinly disguised account of the 1963 assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis.

There have been enough political killings and assassinations throughout history as it is. I started compiling a list of “political murders of the day” for this website, (available by clicking the link above), and I’m sorry to say that I have one for just about every day of the year. People have been killing other people since time immemorial. They need no encouragement.

So let’s leave assassination to the fictional realm of thrillers, movies, and the like. I update my political murder page every day; let’s not tempt fate.

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