Forgoing the standard waiting period for establishing distance and perspective, Oliver Stone has given the world the story of George W. Bush while the nationís 43rd President is reportedly still in office. And in the new film W. he gives us a man so simple he could almost be complex, and a drama so comedic you wonít know whether to laugh or cry.
Oliver Stone has made good films and bad films and maddening films. Heís also made three films about American presidents. But he doesnít make boring films and indeed W. rarely languishes, or even catches its breath, moving briskly through the defining moments in a manís life with the luxury of an audience already clued into the massive consequences in store. Consequences that will not only define George W. Bushís life, but the very world we live in.
Some are prepared to see the film as a hit piece from liberal Hollywood, though liberal Hollywood has already been heard muttering that perhaps Stone was too sympathetic to the President. Whether or not Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser were fair, they appear to tell the story largely from corroborated accounts. Not even George W. Bush denies he was a directionless alcoholic until he was 40. Itís a matter of record that younger brother Jeb was the favored son in the political dynasty. And Georgeís famous misuse of the English language has been caught on tape, though Stone will sometimes move the malaprop to a different time and place as he sees fit. But Oliver Stone has to give us a reason why this life is a movie and he settles on the plausible theory that níer do well George W. Bush finds God, runs for President, and goes to war in Iraq in an attempt to supersede the father who never believed in him. That his triumph turns into debacle and the family name is soiled in his wake is the stuff of Greek tragedy.
Then again, Stone canít resist playing W. as comedy, mining Texas for all its good olí boy counter-balance to the Ivy League halls of power, and letting his talented cast play the Bush administration figureheads with the mugging, tics and affectations of a Saturday Night Live skit. Though here it must be said that Josh Brolin does something very difficult, very well. He inhabits the character of George W. Bush with only middling physical resemblance to fall back on, and without borrowing from the legion of imitations that came before him. Itís a standout performance. And yes, even sympathetic.
Yet in the end Iím left wondering about both the darker comedy this could have been, and the smaller, less-obvious drama that might have served up some surprises. Itís quite possible that W. has come too quickly, a highly polished movie-of-the-week seeking an audience now glued to the internet, trading nasty videos about the men who for some reason want to be the next President of the United States.
© 2009 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/22/08
U.S. - 2008