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Hunting of the President, The  (2004)


Rating: NR

Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 28, 2004
Review posted: September 30, 2004

Spoilers: Lots


Reviewed by Gregory L. Amato




The Hunting of the President is the movie form of the book of the same name by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason (both of whom make appearances here).  The film lays out evidence for what could be seen, as Hillary Clinton put it, as a “Vast, right-wing conspiracy” to bring down her husband.  Both Clintons were hounded in the legal system and through the media for various transgressions throughout President’s tenure, but the feeding frenzy resulted in surprisingly little to indict either of them with, and seemed to stem from a motivation to discredit him using whatever means necessary rather than to get at any real truth.  Whether President Clinton lied under oath or had sex with an intern after all the investigations were begun is not disputed, but a look at the level of scrutiny both Clintons were put under reveals what the filmmakers consider abuses of power by the independent counsel and other political figures, and also a case of “groupthink” by members of the mainstream media.




Though Fahrenheit 9/11 got all the press at the time, the lesser-known The Hunting of the President quietly went into and out of theaters without nearly the same fanfare.  Hunting shared some of the themes Michael Moore’s latest film, but it doesn’t share the same tone or the approach at all.  I have to admit, the fact that Hunting doesn’t have much entertainment or excitement value in it (and in fact that it drags a little bit in the middle) is actually kind of encouraging.


Why that might be is because emotions tend to run way too high for people to actually watch political documentaries without hearing only what they want to hear.  On the other side of it, I don’t think the viewer should need to have the mental equivalent of x-ray vision in order to see how a filmmaker might be using information in a misleading way.  So with all that in mind, I think I mainly like The Hunting of the President because it is anti-sensational:  It doesn’t have Moore’s flash or humor, but it does make a thoughtful examination of its subject matter by presenting its evidence piece by piece.


Better still that the film should be released now that the whole series of affairs (Troopergate, Whitewater, etc.) are over and we can look back, hopefully to realize how overly scandalized a lot of this was.  How some of the other parties involved went through much of this with untarnished reputations while selling garbage like “The Clinton Chronicles” remains a mystery to me.  An employee fired for raising funds for the Contras in Nicaragua (Larry Nichols) can turn around and sell a story to a tabloid for $50,000 that the man who fired him (Bill Clinton) had had sex with several women as governor of Arkansas.  He can then go on to narrate his own so-called documentary (The Clinton Chronicles) describing President Clinton as a drug smuggler, embezzler, and murderer, and yet charges like these are still taken seriously.  One upside to this fiasco:  The outtakes of Paula Jones from the film are hilarious (e.g., “Whaddaya call ‘em, Democrats?”).


But even for all the exaggerations being reported, the film does an excellent job of showing how the press was seduced into the possibility of having a huge political story on its hands.  It wasn’t an example of right-wing bias in the news; it was a case of “Oh my gosh there’s another Watergate happening and I HAVE TO GET A PIECE OF IT!”  This mindset ended up blowing the events portrayed way out of proportion, allowing some extreme right-wing individuals and organizations to get a hold of a great deal more clout than they would have otherwise been afforded.


That said, even as a critique of the president’s “hunters,” the film has a few holes left unfilled.  Anne Coulter’s inclusion as an “elf” (one of the people who assisted Paula Jones in her case against President Clinton after her original lawyers were dismissed) is mentioned without any substantiation.  David Brock (the former conservative author of much disinformation), also mentions the elves having connections to the Federalist Society, but again, this is just a loose association that hangs out there with no evidence to support it.


Loose associations included, the film is still a focused look at what was certainly a concerted effort to do literally anything to damage the reputation of our 42nd president, and the complicity that allowed it to very nearly happen.




The Hunting of the President is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.  The interview footage obviously looks much better than the stock footage, but the anamorphic widescreen aspect is a welcome feature.




The Hunting of the President is presented in 2.1 Dolby surround.  Not exactly the most up to date audio configuration, but considering the film is almost all dialog, this isn’t a major point.




Two extras are included on the disc:  The original trailer (self-explanatory) and comments from Bill Clinton following the premiere screening of the film.  A director’s commentary, often included by default in many DVDs that really shouldn’t have them, is thankfully left out.  Clinton’s remarks are worth hearing though, even if they are the only substantial bonus material.  Most interesting are his words concerning how to deal with the people who tried to discredit him as a bad person rather than by arguing against any of actual policies:  “I think it’s important that we not respond in kind.  But instead, to argue and fight on a different ground.”  To address the issues rather than demonize opponents in response to such ad hominem attacks is an important message put forward in an age where most political books and films appear to be nothing more than ego-boosters for like-minded people, where the facts be damned.




For anyone really interested in politics, Hunting is worth seeing.  I haven’t read the book and can’t comment on whether one does a better job than the other, but the humanness inherent to the characters portrayed in the film (especially Susan McDougal) may very well make it the preferred medium.  Again, this is one of those subjects that gets people with the smallest of insights (from both sides of the political spectrum) to start shouting at their loudest, but the best part about this film is that it doesn’t buy into that.  As President Clinton said in his comments following the screening of the film, you shouldn’t respond in kind to fallacious attacks, misinformation, or outright lies.  You should point them out and be critical of them, but you should not use the same tactics in response.  The fact that this is what the film attempts to do is why it’s worth watching.




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