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Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
October 17th, 2008

GATW would like thank Wes Singleton for the use of his review. You can read more of his reviews at Pop Syndicate.

W. is an enjoyable, though hardly revealing portrait of a divisive politician.

W., the new semi-biographical film from Oliver Stone about our current U.S. President George W. Bush, will be as divisive as the man himself. Conservatives will hate it and liberals may enjoy it, but that is no surprise. The left-leaning Stone has said that W. is not a strong anti-Bush polemic but a true, fair portrait of the man. At least part of this assertion is true. W. isn’t a mean-spirited or hateful anti-Bush statement, but its portrait of him isn’t objective or even that revealing. Taken strictly as entertainment, W. is an enjoyable, lighter-toned and well-acted film, but when it strays off to make political statements, it becomes as wobbly and uneven as the recent economy.

Stone times W. perfectly with Bush’s last 100 days in office and a very volatile presidential election. He dissects Bush’s life into three acts: Act 1 is about Bush, the wild frat boy, alcoholic who has trouble keeping a job. Act 2 is his rise to power, and Act 3 deals with his Presidency. The first act goes into seemingly unfamiliar territory, when it looks at Bush’s (played by Josh Brolin) wild young life as a job-challenged, free-wheeling alcoholic.

He meets an Austin librarian named Laura Welch (Elizabeth Banks), marries her and becomes an ambitious businessman and politician, striving to please his parents (James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn), with whom he tangles frequently. However, his shrewd political managers, including Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) make him appear delectable. He rises to Governor of the State of Texas and then feels compelled, even called by God as part of his newfound Christian faith, to make a successful run for the U.S. Presidency. As President, his desire is to protect the country and he takes his country to war to help fight post-9/11 terrorism and bring down the evil Saddam Hussein.

While W. isn‘t a negative, hateful anti-Bush film, it does skewer him in a far lighter tone than Stone’s Nixon. Stone co-wrote the film with his Wall Street scribe Stanley Weiser, and though the film is certainly factual, he takes liberties with much of the dialogue (one memorable snippet: “My mother could run faster than that lard ass,” Bush says of Clinton) and bases his film on many different books and other resources about Bush. The biographical elements and the first act of W. work best, with the most affecting scenes between father and son, who have trouble communicating and relating to each other. “You disappoint me,” he tells W. early on, and there’s no doubting he probably did at some point.

W. falters when it strives to interpret Bush’s policies. For one, Stone is hardly exhaustive, focusing solely on the Iraq war in his first term, ignoring nearly everything in either of Bush’s terms. Second, his deeply subjective view reveals what is his biggest weakness as director - a heavy, heavy hand. It shows in W.’s longest and most excruciating scene around a conference table and an extended Cheney monologue about power and oil. Though Stone is a talented director, his heavy hand could lose many audience members.

W. is well-acted by most of its all-star cast (probably easy to obtain given Bush’s unpopularity in Hollywood). Brolin gives a studied performance as W., conveying some of Bush’s best mannerisms, his style, his walk and empty looks. He holds the film together and is what most will remember, portraying Bush exactly as directed and written: as a decent man and a buffoonish politician. Banks has far less to do as Laura, viewed here mostly in a neutral, supporting light.

The rest of W’s large cast is a mixed bag, with the most notable performances the least gimmicky ones. Burstyn and especially Cromwell give fine supporting performances as the elder Bushes: Barbara the spitfire and the older George a weakling. Of Bush’s inner circle, Dreyfuss is on target as Cheney and Jones a terrific Rove, but the rest exist largely as caricatures. Jeffrey Wright is a mumbling Colin Powell, Thandie Newton a squinty, cowering Condoleeza Rice (coming across as largely a sight gag), and Scott Glenn, miscast as Donald Rumsfeld or “Rummy” as he’s called by Bush.

Much like Stone’s JFK, W. is enjoyable, even terrific entertainment, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Politically or even biographically, it isn’t objective or revealing, but this behind the scenes portrait of a very divisive political figure is still fun to watch (Stone has fun editing Brolin and the cast into some real news footage). While timely for now, W. doesn’t leave you with any significant statements and won’t change your views of Bush, either way. Only time will tell of the Bush legacy and the real impact, if any, that W. the movie will have.

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  • http://www.kogmedia.com kogmedia

    Josh Brolin did a convincing Dubya, though he reminded me a lot of his cowboy character from No Country for Old Men… over all, i don’t doubt that ‘W.’ will have the effect Oliver Stone desired

  • DannaB

    Why did Stone make this film? He has a history of painting a stark picture of political figures… but this film completely missed the mark! W. felt disjointed and forced. More time was spent trying to find actor look-alikes, forcing naiveté and pandering cherry picked fact to the left than was spent providing the audience with a sincere character study. I’m sorry, but I consider myself to have both feet solidly planted on the ‘left’ – so it pains me to say that this characterization of our departing president is nothing more than an SNL caricature. I mean come on… at least give me some ammunition.

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