Bush’s Brain

For the uninitiated, Karl Rove, the subject of the documentary Bush's Brain, is George W. Bush's shadowy adviser whom many – including the authors of the eponymous book on which this film is based – consider to be something of a co-president, and in any event a brilliant, devious man who makes all the key decisions for his allegedly clueless boss.

Look, I'm as liberal as you can get, but in a year packed with anti-right-wing documentaries, I had hoped that Bush's Brain might stand out from the pack by providing insight into contemporary politics as well as shedding light on the mysterious Rove. It does neither. The film is merely a litany of Rove's dirty dealings, following his rise from head of the Young Republicans as a college student to his wide-reaching influence today. Without much footage other than the usual stills of Bush and Rove we've all seen, and a collection of talking head interviews, all the filmmakers do is give us the impression that Karl Rove is a petty-minded creep who's out to win at all costs. Is anyone surprised by this?

The only thing of real interest is that many of the interviewees are not the usual pundits from the left, but Republicans – even Republican campaign managers – who have been burned by Rove in the past (one even gave an interview on the sole condition that the name "Karl Rove" would not be mentioned). They come across as smart, soft-spoken, genuinely decent people – reminding us left-wingers that there is such a thing as a good Republican, and that Rove has made plenty of enemies on both sides of the political fence.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem to have panicked halfway through editing, fearing their film might be kind of dry (which it is), and so they awkwardly insert a mawkish "family of the nice kid who died in Iraq" sequence, which attempts to work the tear ducts by showing the human consequences of Rove's political machinations (even though the film itself barely touches on Rove's influence over the Iraq War). This calculated attempt at emotional manipulation in a documentary about Karl Rove is ironic, to say the least.