Although a critical smash at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, this film did not enjoy a conventional theatrical release due the its distributor, The Yari Film Group, filing for bankruptcy. Given all the CGI as a replacement for a decent screenplay garbage that Hollywood does manage to shove into theaters, one almost feels the pang of some cosmic injustice on behalf of film's creative team and performers. Fortunately, Assassination of a High School President has garnered enough of a following to prevent it from slipping through the cracks.
What impressed me most was the screenplay! And what impressed me most about the screenplay were the character arcs of the leading actor and actress, Reece Daniel Thompson and Mischa Barton. The former writes for the school newspaper, doesn't fit into any of the many social cliques surrounding him, and whose greatest strength, an unyeilding sense of ambition, becomes his greatest weakness. In addition to her beauty, the latter is also brilliant, poised, and precise. She knows well the stature she holds and what that stature can avail her, but she doesn't seem all that interested in exploiting it.
In order to distinguish himself from the other members of the school paper Bobby Funke must become more than a run of the mill reporter, he must become an investigative journalist. At first, just to distinguish himself for a shot at a summer journalism scholarship, but, later, to clear the name of someone he has personally indicted with his writing. While the late John Hughes made youth-focused films that connected with a young audience in very specific ways, this film is a satire in every moment of its existence. The principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off was plucky to the point of unwarranted silliness, but here Bruce Willis portrays a potent and powerful principal of this private Catholic school. One would probably laugh AT the former, but we laugh with the latter and do so just a little bit nervously. While Bruce Willis was the catalyst to get me to look at this film in the first place, his role is strictly supportive. It is a testament to his skills as an actor to maximize all the little opportunities for both spoken and physical comedy that present themselves without upstaging the storyline or the cast he is supporting.
If I have one complaint, it would be that there wasn't a single black and white scene in the film. Everytime Funke holds his stick of chewing gum like Sam Spade would hold a cigarette before taking a puff the film just screams noir. The timelessness of the set-dressing and wardrobe are all there, but I just wish there could have been one black and white scene somewhere as an homage to traditional film noir.
Of the bonus features, the most noteworthy would be the running commentary. I normally have mixed feelings about most deleted scenes, but here there are a couple of scenes that were a real sacrifice to have to leave on the cutting room floor (this is especially true for anyone familiar with even a rudimentary amount of Spanish). A making of featurette would have been nice, but, given all the financial challenges this project eventually met with, I'm just glad it has managed to see the light of day.
I don't normally write reviews of movies since there are plenty who already do so and do so well, but Assassination of a High School President has encountered more than it's fair share obstacles and setbacks. If you're looking for a stark departure from the cookie-cutter formula of most high school films, then this is the ticket.