Reviewers disagree on movie’s George W. Bush portrayal
October 23, 2008
The mystery behind Oliver Stone’s “W.” is of a kind usually reserved for Bigfoot and PT Anderson films. Lionsgate has remained curiously tight-lipped about the movie in the months leading to its release, its scant few trailers only fueling the fire of anticipation. With a filmmaker of Stone’s disposition at the helm, you could probably surmise that “W.” is no love letter. What it is, though, is a film so crazy enough that it works, a fascinating, pseudo-hypothetical look at what drove the actions of the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.
With “W.,” Stone traces the life of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) from his college days to about 2004 (leaving out the election in 2000 - otherwise, we’d be here all night). Bush is depicted in his earlier days as something of a wild child, a guy not quite ready to handle the responsibilities of adulthood once his Yale party days came to a close. Failing in job after job, ol’ W. continually serves as a disappointment to his father, the elder George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell). Driven by a desire to earn his dad’s respect, Bush sees making his own name in the world of politics as a way of winning him over. Eventually abandoning the bottle and settling down with his supportive wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), Bush rises despite the odds, working on his own father’s campaign before taking over the presidency himself.
Stone’s aim with “W.” is to work his way into Bush’s various nooks and crannies, to make as accurate a guess as possible as to why he did what he did on the road to the White House. It’s fascinating to see figures like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove in action here, manipulating the well-meaning Bush into pushing their own agendas. This isn’t to say that “W.” will suddenly make detractors fall in love with the much-criticized Bush, but Stone’s efforts to put the man’s history into perspective do pay off handsomely.
The acting is just about spot-on, as well. Brolin has W.’s mannerisms and speech down pat, but he does an even better job of conveying the “Aw, shucks,” everyman type of charm that got him elected in the first place. But it’s Richard Dreyfuss’ scary-good performance as Cheney that may very well be the film’s highlight. The only actor I didn’t care much for was Thandie Newton, who looked an awful lot like Condoleezza Rice but who delivered a cringe-inducing imitation of the real thing.
A friend of mine asked me what the purpose behind “W.” was, what I thought Stone expected the film to do. To be honest, I don’t really know, though its rushed production to have it in theaters before the upcoming election is definitely one clue. But as is, I have to say “W.” drew me in like few films this year have, a wise and delicately-balanced picture that ventures a thought provoking guess as to what went on in Bush’s brain.
4 stars out of 5
A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.