Bush's Brain, in a nut shell, is a film by Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob based on the book of the same name that was co-written by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater. Through interviews, various forms of documentation, archival footage and yes, some assumptions and guess work the authors and filmmakers make a case against Karl Rove and reveal him to have been behind more than a few smear campaigns throughout his political career.
The film follows his rise up through the ranks of the young College Republicans movement then on through his years as a political consultant for various candidates on various campaign's up to his recent involvement with the current Bush administration and his alleged involvement in the disclosure of Sen. Joseph Wilson's wife, Valeria Plame, as a CIA operative by Robert Novak (an act which, if true, is treason). Coincidentally or not, Novak has ties to Rove and this event happened only after Wilson spoke out against President Bush's assumptions that the Iraqi's were trying to obtain uranium from Niger.
The film goes into details about how Sen. John McCain was defaced for having a 'black love child' by the media when in reality he had adopted an orphan, and how Sen. Max Cleland, a man who lost three of his limbs in Vietnam during active duty, was smeared in an add campaign that used images of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to paint him as unpatriotic and uninterested in national security when he didn't vote for the Republican version of the Patriot act (though didn't vote against the act itself).
My main problem with the film is the lack of biographical information on Rove. The filmmakers really only state that he's a nerd and may have gotten into right wing politics so that he could use his wit and intelligence to supplement some of the social woes he may have had to deal with in his youth. Well, I was a nerd too, I still am, but I'm not masterminding evil election campaign tactics that border on illegal and certainly cross a few ethical boundaries. This seems too simple to me and I think that the movie would have been better if they'd have worked a little harder to flesh Karl Rove out as a person in order for us to better understand where he's coming from.
With that little rant out of the way, a lot of the stories that we hear from people who either worked with him or against him are interesting and paint a rather malicious portrait not only of the title subject but of partisan politics in general. We already know that most politicians lie and bend the truth to suit their own agenda, but what makes the movie work is how the demonstrate how Rove appears (note – I said appear as some of this just cannot be proven no matter how much it may look like he did it and the film does make that clear – though Rove's involvement in the film was requested and not surprisingly quickly denied in writing) to make that happen for his clients.
Oddly enough the film ends on a note where we hear from a family who has lost a son in the current Iraq war. While this is a tragic and all too real situation, it feels out of place with the rest of the film though it does go towards proving, as the film states, that Bush – who has called himself 'a war president' – is running this current war with a lot of people in high places who never saw active duty in any capacity. At the very least the movie provides you with plenty of food for thought, regardless of your political sway.
Like most of the recent political documentaries that have hit the home video market in the last year or so, Bush's Brain is made up of new 'talking head' interview footage and mixed in with plenty of news clips, old photographs, and archival footage. As such, the quality varies depending on the source material used in each specific scene. Overall though, the movie looks pretty good for something that was obviously shot on video and is presented fullframe. Colors are pretty natural looking and don't appear to bleed into each other and we're left with a much sharper and crisper image than we're used to seeing on your average SOV production. Compression artifacts were never a problem and edge enhancement, while present, was quite mild.
The audio mix is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix without any subtitle options available. Being almost entirely dialogue based, this mix takes care of business without any problems and all the talky bits come through nice and clear. I didn't hear any hiss or distortion except for a few archival bits and there's not much to find fault with here from a technical perspective.
There are two extra features available off the main menu. The first is entitled The Republicans and essentially what this is a group of, well, Republicans, discussing their take on Rove and the controversy surrounding him. This piece runs about seven minutes and is more amusing than informative, but that's not a bad thing. The second extra feature is a series of deleted scenes that runs for about six minutes. There's some more talking head footage and some more recitation of Rove's fax that was sent to the author's of the book and I'm not entirely sure why this material wasn't left in the movie, but hey, here they are and you can at least see them this way if you are so inclined.
You can also find an Easter Egg off of the main menu by highlighting the image of Karl Rove to the left of the menu options and turning his glasses to black sunglasses. Once this is selected, you'll be treated to roughly fifteen minutes of comments from most of the key players in the documentary who give their initial impressions of Bush and Rove.
While I would have liked to have seen more focus on Rove as a person and how it all relates to his tactics rather than simply focus on his tactics alone, Bush's Brain is an interesting look at one of the more 'behind the scenes' players in the current administration and how he got to where he is today. For fans of political documentaries, the movie comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.