Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ earns endorsement
Oliver Stones W., a biography of President Bush, is fascinating. No other word for it. I became absorbed in its story of a poor little rich kids alcoholic youth and torturous adulthood. This is the tragedy of a victim of the Peter Principle. Wounded by his fathers disapproval and preference for his brother Jeb, the movie argues, George W. Bush rose and rose until he was finally powerful enough to stain his familys legacy.Unlike Stones JFK and Nixon, this film contains no revisionist history. Everything in it, including the scenes behind closed doors, is now pretty much familiar from tell-all books by former Bush aides, and reporting by journalists such as Bob Woodward. Although Stone and his writer, Stanley Weiser, could obviously not know exactly who said what and when, theres not a line of dialogue that sounds like malicious fiction. Its all pretty much as published accounts have prepared us for.The focus is always on Bush (Josh Brolin): his personality, his addiction, his insecurities, his unwavering faith in a mission from God, his yearning to prove himself, his inability to deal with those who advised him. Not surprisingly, in this film, most of the crucial decisions of his presidency were shaped and placed in his hands by the Machiavellian strategist Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and the master politician Karl Rove (Toby Jones). Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) runs an exasperated third.But what made them tick? And what about Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton)? You wont find out here. The film sees Bushs insiders from the outside. In his presence, they tend to defer, to use tact as a shield from his ego and defensiveness. But Cheneys soft-spoken, absolutely confident opinions are generally taken as truth. And Bush accepts Rove as the man to teach him what to say and how to say it. He needs them and doesnt cross them.In the world according to W., Bush always fell short in the eyes of his patrician father (James Cromwell) and outspoken mother (Ellen Burstyn). He resented his parents greater admiration for his younger brother Jeb. The film lacks scenes showing W. as a child, however probably wisely. It opens at a drunken fraternity initiation, and Junior is pretty much drunk until he finds Jesus at the age of 40. He runs through women, jobs and cars at an alarming speed, and receives one angry lecture after another from his dad.While running for Congress for the first time, he meets pretty Laura (Elizabeth Banks) at a party, and love blossoms. She was a Gene McCarthy volunteer. Did she turn conservative? I imagine so, but the movie doesnt show them discussing politics. She is patient, steadfast, loving, supportive and a prime candidate for Al-Anon, the 12-step program for spouses of alcoholics. After Bush quits cold turkey, the movie shows him nevertheless often with a beer in his hand, unaware of the jocular AA curse for someone you hate: One little drink wont kill you. (In an interview, Oliver Stone told me that Bush was not drinking real beer in the later scenes, but the non-alcoholic ODouls.)Dried out, Bush is finally able to hold down jobs. The movie is far from a chronological record, organizing episodes to observe the development of his personality, not his career. Even several spellbinding scenes about the run-up to the Iraq War are not so much critical of his decisions as about how cluelessly, and yet with such vehemence, he stuck with them through thick and thin. At a top-level meeting where he is finally informed that there are no WMDs in Iraq and apparently never were, he is furious for not being informed of this earlier. Several people in the room tried to inform him, but were silenced. Colin Powell spends a lot of time softly urging caution and holding his tongue. There is no indication that he will eventually resign.The movies Bush is exasperating to work with. At his Texas ranch, he takes the inner circle on a march through the blazing sun, misses a turn, and assures them its only a half-mile back. Cheney, after three heart attacks, and Rice, wearing inappropriate shoes, straggle along unhappily. His parents are apparently even more disturbed by his decision to run for governor of Texas than by his drinking. Cheney is lectured at a private lunch to remember who is president. He quietly forgets.Many of the actors somewhat resemble the people they play. The best is Dreyfuss as Cheney, who is not so much a double as an embodiment. The films portrait of George Senior is sympathetic; it shows him giving Junior the cufflinks that were the only real thing his own father, Sen. Prescott Bush, ever gave him. The name and the Oedipal Complex were passed down the family tree.One might feel sorry for George W. at the end of this film, were it not for his legacy of a fraudulent war and a collapsed economy. The film portrays him as incompetent to be president, and shaped by the puppet-masters Cheney and Rove to their own ends. If there is a saving grace, it may be that Bush will never fully realize how badly he did. How can he blame himself? He was only following Gods will.
W. Lionsgate presents a film directed by Oliver Stone. Running time: 131 minutes. MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images). Rated: Four stars.
Ann HornadayThe Washington PostW., the title of Oliver Stones new biopic of President Bush, obviously refers to the subjects middle initial and nickname, but it could just as easily stand for Why? Why this movie a rushed, wildly uneven, tonally off-kilter caricature and why now? Why, when Americans and citizens around the globe are still coping with myriad depredations of Bush administration policies, would they want to pay money at the box office to see what amounts to an extended Saturday Night Live skit?Reportedly, Stone shot and edited W. quickly, so that it could be released before the Nov. 4 presidential election; the rush-job shows in a movie that plays like a mishmash of narrative priorities and aesthetic choices.The through line of W. is the recurring Oedipal struggle between Bush Junior (played in a squinty-eyed, set-jawed impersonation by Josh Brolin) and his far more accomplished father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell).W. is a scattershot attempt at stylized portraiture that plays like a half-baked editorial cartoon.Asking us to wince at the old chestnut Is our children learning? fatally loses sight of how high the stakes have been, and still are. To return to the why question: Why would we want to see the movie when were still in the movie and when it looks like well be in it long after its protagonist has made his exit?
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User