In 'W', presidential perspective goes AWOL
As Oliver Stone skewers George W. Bush as a one-dimentional, dimwitted, beer swilling underachiever with a desperate inferiority complex toward his overbearing "Poppy," you have to have mixed feelings.
No matter how you feel about Bush's legacy or lack of same, we are ingrained to respect the office, and it is hard to watch a film that suggests we could select someone so completely inept and immature as the twit the president is portrayed as here.
To his credit, Stone is one of only a couple of filmmakers alive with the, shall we say, stones to make a real current affairs movie, let alone tackle a president while he's still in office.
But a film like "W" muddies the line between entertainment and documentary; neither requiring accuracy of itself as a true biography, or a script that could carry a movie as pure entertainment (without the hype of sticking it to a polticial icon.) It is familiar territory for Stone, who has mined JFK, Nixon and Castro before this.
Josh Brolin as George Bush doesn't quite pull off the look - he is too chisled and humorless. I wonder if anyone considered Dennis Quaid? Or if animated, Curious George... Brolin absolutely nails the Bush voice and mannerisms, though. Close your eyes and he sounds more W than W.
The film hammers at the mistaken statement of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq throughout, making one wonder if there has been no other issue in the past eight years. Stone alternates war-era meetings of the cabinet with flashbacks from various times in the past life of W - as a tipsy frat boy at a hazing, as a baseball owner throwing up his arms in self-adulation pretending to be a player in his empty stadium, being told what an embarrassment he is by his father. The film's unspoken premise seems to be that Bush's past is to blame for the decisions of his presidency.
Even W's "born again" revelation is subtly mocked - Stone has him saying that God told him to run for president, in the same vein as a scene in which W nearly chokes himself to death while shoving snacks in his mouth watching football on TV. While running for governor he remarks that he may have to read the Constitution some time to see what it says. And the Bush character states his political strategy as, "Don't think too much. It screws you all up."
When his girlfriend fails to praise a speech he has given early on, he has a tantrum and slams his car into a house.
Toward the end, Stone seems to soften a bit and gives W a few sympathetic moments. They are uncomfortable - the president cowering in the Oval Office as George Sr. throws mocking punches at him, or desperately trying to put a stumbling sentence together to answer a reporter's question.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't go any deeper than the stereotypes - there is little insight here about who Bush really is.
Richard Dreyfus is chilling as a warmongering Dick Cheney who perches like a dark angel on Bush's shoulder and manipulates his every move. Laura Bush is played a touch vapidly - when asked what she does, a young (and sexy!) Laura played well by Elizabeth Banks replied, "I read...I smoke." Still she comes off as a saint for putting up with W.
You want culture shock? See Banks here, then in her other film out this week, "Zach and Laura Bush Make a Porno" - um, I mean Zach and Miri... weird.
Colin Powell gets the hero treatment, the good conscience warning Bush away from every bad move, but always ignored. Condi Rice (Thandie Newton) is played terribly as a wooden yes-woman.
It all comes off superficial, with no depth to these historic figures. In politics, seldom is anyone completely good or completely bad. It's just not that simple.
Even the music seems a bit mocking, with the likes of "Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee" playing behind Bush's folksy antics. Sadly, his battle with alcoholism, which could have humanized the story, is glossed by.
The movie seems to come to no particular concluson, tapering off to an end - perhaps intentionally to mock the close of the administration with a whimper rather than a bang, or perhaps because Stone rushed it to get it out for the election season.
It's a well done movie, but is it fair? I suppose history will decide that for us.
* "W" - hasn't made it to the area yet. Rated PG-13, though I'm not sure why. Run time 2:09. Our score: 2 stars out of 5