In one week, American citizens will decide the fate of the country for the next four years. Sadly, I cannot be completely confident that they will make the right choice and move away from the party that has screwed over this world so much over the last eight years. I can say with confidence, however, that George W. Bush and his administration will be looked back upon in history as one of the most deceptive, corrupt and anti-American governments in United States history. They sought to make the world safer after 9/11 and proceeded to make it more dangerous for everyone, especially Americans. They have crapped all over the Constitution and done it with a cocky smirk. The economy is in the tank, the foreign policy is disastrous and the world hates us more than ever. Way to go, President Bush.
W. is the latest film from Oliver Stone, a movie brazenly released before Bush has even left office. This rather unprecedented move presents a predicament; how can you properly assess a character when his story isn't complete? Stone, known for his liberal preferences, apparently felt that he didn't need to know the final chapter in Bush's legacy to be write his story - frankly, we'll be paying for his mistakes for years, so who can wait that long? W., however, is not the liberal tirade against Bush like most people would expect; in other words, it is not Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie that I thought was effective only to the audience it was designed for: Democrats. Stone has deliberately subdued his viewpoints to appeal to broader audiences, and the result is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, Republicans (the crazy ones that still approve of Bush) could watch this film and not be completely offended, as W. portrays Bush more as a tragic character than a deliberately malicious one. Stone's George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) is a man of simple tastes and simple goals; not a simple man, but a man who wears his beliefs on his shoulders. As such, surrounded by the right men, he is easily manipulated without ever realizing it, and listens a little too closely to the likes of Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn). This Bush is flawed but "likable," and you feel for the situation that he has gotten himself into; put in this perspective, one has to believe that the real George W. Bush has to be more affected by a war gone wrong and low approval ratings than he lets on; no one wants to be hated by billions of people, and he will be living down his legacy for the rest of his life. Of course, while Bush is portrayed with some compassion, he is not necessarily viewed positively either; and if he is, the rest of his administration certainly is not.
W. is interesting, and takes a very unique look at Bush's life that I doubt will be repeated anytime soon. The movie is more of a character study than anything else; it is certainly not a historical biopic that addresses every issue. For instance, Stone jumps from the late 1990's to 2003; two of the most notable events, the contested 2000 election and September 11th, are never shown and in many ways, barely mentioned. This was a mistake for Stone to completely ignore these events, but, then again, his avoidance of topics that everyone knows about and remembers allows him to focus on other storytelling aspects. Instead, Stone decides to focus on Bush's strained relationship with his father, and his psychological complex to step out from under his shadow. Whether this conflict is a reality or not is anyone's guess, but it's an interesting one.
While enjoyable, the movie isn't perfect. The movie lacks power and energy at times; it lacks the epic feel that JFK, Platoon and a variety of other Stone movies possess. In many ways, the movie is small, and that works both in its favor and against it. Furthermore, Stone went out of his way to cast actors - or apply makeup to them - to make them appear like their real-world counterparts. Brolin is great as Bush, as is Dreyfuss as Cheney, but some of the characters come off as caricatures, as less funny versions of their "Saturday Night Live" counterparts. No one falls victim to this approach more than Thandie Newton, who has the look and sound of Condoleeza Rice, but who has the look and sound a bit too much. She's unintentionally funny, and stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else. Ioan Gruffudd as Tony Blair is also quite bad.
W. is a film of conflicting flavors, performances and quality, but Stone manages to find a pretty good balance. The movie is neither great nor forgettable, and is certainly worth seeing for the utterly disturbing war room scenes. In a rather weak year for performances, Brolin could be looking at an Oscar nomination, though I somehow doubt it. By March, no one is going to want to be reminded of Bush, and maybe that's why Stone decided to make his movie now.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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