One of the latest editions to HBO’s loaded library of documentaries is 41. The title refers to our country’s 41st president, George H.W. Bush. The documentary is a thorough look at the life of our 41st president and really goes in depth into his early childhood and his term as president of the United States. While this should have provided a wealth of interesting material, many of the stylistic choices of the film get in the way of this being something worthy of a president.
The documentary is directed by Jeffrey Roth. He also writes the documentary with writing partner Stephen Beck. This team has only made one other previous film (documentary The Wonder of It All), and that definitely shows. Much of the direction feels amateurish (which is against what we have come to expect from HBO’s lineup of documentaries). The duo also decided to make the whole documentary take place from George H.W. Bush’s perspective. This would normally be a great idea, but Jeffrey Roth botches the setup. Roth spends too much time focusing on Bush talking about himself, and when he isn’t focusing on that he poorly edits together a bunch of pictures and videos. It also doesn’t help that Bush is probably a little too old to take on such a large narrating job.
However, the film’s few memorable moments come about only because of this stylistic choice. George H.W. Bush comes across as extremely sincere. The portions surrounding Bush’s time as our president really benefit from this as it gives us a very intimate insight. In his own words, Bush comes off as a man who wanted the best for America despite only being one man. The best moment of the film occurs when Bush is asked about his thoughts on Ross Perot. It is surprising and makes you understand that despite being a former president he is just a human being like everyone else.
If the film just looked into Bush’s life as president, this could have been a good documentary. Unfortunately, it spends way too much time early on talking about his upbringing. In the hands of a better director it could have been fascinating, but here it comes across as overlong and un-insightful.
41 is by far one of HBO’s weaker documentary installments. It never really feels like the definitive film about George H.W. Bush (and borders on amateurish filmmaking). However, it is not without its moments due to Bush’s frank insight into his own life.