By turns darkly comical, seriously scary and purposefully incendiary. Docu is not so much a report on President Bush as a study of the commander-in-chief's strategist: Karl Rove, the savvy and savagely competitive politico who's often accused of viewing elections as a full-contact sport. Could attract ticketbuyers who normally avoid nonfiction fare.

By turns darkly comical, seriously scary and purposefully incendiary, “Bush’s Brain” may seem, depending on your politics, either a shamelessly one-sided assault on a popular U.S. president or a justifiably harsh critique of a politician who personifies the Peter Principle. Ultimately, however, pic is not so much a report on President George W. Bush as a study of the commander-in-chief’s key strategist: Karl Rove, the savvy and savagely competitive politico who’s often accused of viewing elections as a full-contact sport. Docu could attract ticketbuyers who normally avoid nonfiction fare, provided theatrical release can be quickly launched during current campaign season.

Working from “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,” a bestselling tome by investigative reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, co-directors Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey produce a frankly damning profile of a man who apparently will stop nothing to advance his candidate — and, of course, his own career.

According to filmmakers, Rove first evidenced a penchant for dirty tricks during his high school years, when the “classic nerd” pulled mental fakeouts on opponents in debate tournaments. Decades later, pic claims, Rove upped the ante during even more duplicitous stunts to undermine Sen. John McCain in 2000 Republican primaries.

“Bush’s Brain” charts Rove’s rise from his salad days as a Young Republican campus firebrand, through his apprenticeship to political tacticians (including the legendarily ruthless Lee Atwater), to his successful crafting of gubernatorial and presidential campaigns for George W.

Along the way, pic reports, Rove developed what presidential scholar Bruce Buchanan describes as a “junkyard-dog approach to politics.”

Since the 2000 election, Rove has worked inside the White House — in Hillary Clinton’s former office, no less — to advance Bush in particular and the Republican cause in general. Pic makes persuasive case that he played a key role in the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative after her husband, veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson, wrote a New York Times op-ed piece disputing the administration’s claim of a weapons of mass destruction connection in Niger.

Shoob and Mealey try to preempt criticism about lack of balance by reporting Rove declined their request for on-camera interviews. Still, even certified Bush haters may be unsettled by pic’s proclivity for overkill. Ten-minute segment near the end offers heart-tugging account of a U.S. solider killed in action during Iraqi invasion. Trouble is, sequence really adds nothing to case against Rove, and comes off as well-intended but entirely irrelevant filler.

There’s never any real doubt that filmmakers aren’t pleased to have George W. Bush in the White House. Which, of course, makes it all the more amusing to consider a pointed irony: If Rove can’t get Bush re-elected, “Bush’s Brain” immediately becomes dated merchandise and the filmmakers lose their chance to land the largest possible aud for their handiwork.

Despite musical contributions from Michelle Shocked and David Friedman, tech credits are mostly unexceptional.

Bush's Brain

Production

A BB production. Produced by Michael Paradies Shoob, Joseph Mealey. Co-producer, Elizabeth Reeder. Directed by Michael Paradies Shoob, Joseph Mealey, based on the book "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential" by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Mealey; editor, Tom Siiter; music, Michelle Shocked, David Friedman. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (Special Screenings), Austin, Texas, March 13, 2004. Running time: 80 MIN. Narrator: Jacques Vroom.
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