The Hunting Of The President

The Hunting Of The President

Bill Clinton's impeachment seemed ridiculous at the time, but history has transformed it from farce to tragedy. Time hasn't exonerated Clinton for his absurd lapses in personal judgment, but it's made the tens of millions of dollars spent investigating those lapses look like even more of a sickening waste, given how they were spent while enemies plotted to make sure America never slept easy again, whether the president got some on the side or not.

Based on Gene Lyons and Joe Conason's book The Hunting Of The President: The Ten-Year Campaign To Destroy Bill And Hillary Clinton, Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason's documentary The Hunting Of The President casts Clinton's impeachment as the climax of a plot that stretched from the least scrupulous corners of Arkansas' far-right extremists up to Ken Starr's independent counsel. Are its assertions correct? Well, probably, but The Hunting Of The President doesn't exactly play fair, either. Sitcom producer Thomason is a longtime Clinton friend who played a crucial role in shaping Clinton's camera-friendly image, and Hunting plays like his bitter defense of a good buddy.

Like a Michael Moore film in its least persuasive mode, Hunting begins with an endless roll call of suspicious characters, linked to form a long chain of guilt-by-association, and mocked by stock-footage cheap shots. Seemingly every mention of sex, for instance, prompts grainy black-and-white footage of a writhing go-go dancer. And, unlike Moore, Perry and Thomason have no sense of timeliness, emotional urgency, or knack for constructing an argument. Its melodramatic music is just the first sign of its disregard for objectivity; the only time it plays like a proper documentary instead of a time-delayed counterattack is during a long interview with Whitewater scapegoat Susan McDougal, who details the various Faustian bargains offered by Starr, and the price she paid for refusing them, including a prison sentence that dumped her with child murderers in the darkest corner of the Arkansas penal system.

That's the only sequence that puts the right wing's bar-lowering into human terms, and it's the film's only effective moment, apart from some testimony from journalists on the scandal-hounds' long-term impact on American politics. What a shame that The Hunting Of The President feels like part of the problem.

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