Reviewers disagree on movie’s George W. Bush portrayal
October 23, 2008
Fact: Bush is done as president. Forever. Do not pass go, do not collect another term. Why, then, is our culture over-saturated with overt torrents of pseudo-hatred? There are books on colloquial missteps labeled “Bushisms”; clocks counting down the time until Bush leaves office; inaccurate, apocryphal documentaries concocted by bitter, hypocritical egotists… and now, there is “W.” – Oliver Stone’s self-prescribed prophetic dissection of, for better or worse, one of the world’s most well-known figureheads.
Stone has a penchant for presidential biopics – he has already examined two with “JFK” and “Nixon” – but this latest foray into the slanted world of docudrama lacks something the others benefited from: hindsight. With time comes clarity, but “W.” was purposely rushed through a production cycle of less than a year to release before the election.
The hasty construction shows. The script, penned by Stanley Weiser, is little more than a quick and dirty recap of the life of Dubya, dropped intermittently (and with little regard to pacing or plotting) through dramatic reenactments of images we’ve already seen on TV.
“W.” attempts poignant investigation on how Bush’s earlier years led him to the decisions he’s made in office. How much truth is imbedded in the raging parties, flowing booze and female flesh Bush immerses himself in is unclear. Between the bottles of Jack and store-bought diplomas, we catch a glimpse of a tragic anti-hero longing for nothing but his father’s approval; we see a disappointed father struggle with the realization that he has desensitized his son to easy street. This father/son dichotomy is intriguing but given too little maturation, stagnating in pools of stale development that drown among hollow rhetorical banter.
Weiser’s script is only skin deep. Stone’s direction is blasé, quickly collapsing under a false sense of superiority. The bitter stench of Oscar-bait clings to “W.”, as does its autocratic objective – “W.” intends to show the world what it needs to see. Unfortunately, “W.” never finds that rare voice of revelation.
It has something to do with famed leftist Stone staying relatively left of center; although he obviously leans liberal, he never strays too far into Bush-bashing territory for too long. The film is definitely not as poison-tongued as it could have been, as it wants to be. But this vain attempt at nonpartisanship sabotages the vision. It’s hard to decide whether to feel sorry for Bush, or hate him – the film ricochets between the two emotions with every scene. It is not until the very last shot do we come to understand what Stone’s message was: that Bush has lost his way. But by then, the film has lulled itself into a dreadful stupor. There is none of Stone’s signature bold excess of emotion or style. The clichéd approach feels too safe, consequently making the film feel at least a half hour longer than it is.
Whether you like Bush or not, it’s obvious the man has convictions, the man has balls. “W.” does not.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.