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Sunday, November 16, 2008

W. (2008) - Oliver Stone

History was made in the last month for two reasons. The first saw the election of the first black man to the seat of President of the United States. The other reason was the beginning of the end of George W. Bush’s tenure as president. He remains the most controversial president since Nixon and arguably one of the worst presidents in US history. But this isn’t a political discussion. It’s a review of Oliver Stone’s biopic of the man, W.

W. is released at a strange time. It’s too far into the Bush’s last term to have any impact on his legacy. And it’s too soon to fully judge Bush’s impact. However, the film attempts to understand Bush’s motivations by looking at some of the key moments in his life that made him the man he is now. Starting while Bush is in college, we trace his life, through the many jobs he held until he became governor of Texas, helped get his father, George H.W. Bush elected as President of the United States and then W.’s own election to the same office.

It’d be very easy to label George W. Bush as an idiot and fool who was, and is a front for big oil and similar shady interests. And while I’m sure that’s not entirely inaccurate, there’s no denying that it takes some brains to get to be president. It doesn’t just happen. And despite these assumptions that a lot of people have about Bush, Stone’s film is somewhat gentle on the guy. The easy thing would have been to make a complete farcical comedy about Bush. There’s enough footage of Bush gaffing to make a pretty funny comedy that is steeped in reality. But Oliver Stone instead looks at Bush as a man who’s constantly living in the shadow of his father. It’s somewhere he despises being. He wants to out-do his father while making his individual mark on the world. And in an attempt at being fair to Bush, you can’t help feeling that there’s also something missing from the film.

The performances are pretty good for the most part. Josh Brolin is excellent as George W. Bush. Stone’s film creates a Bush with a lot of charisma, and Brolin carries this across very well. It’s difficult to watch a film like this without seeing some of the performances as charicatures. And is some cases, this is true. Thandie Newton’s Condaleeza Rice does seem like it stepped out of a Saturday Night Live sketch. Yet in other cases, particularly Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Chaney and James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush, the performances are spot on. But over-all, the performances are generally pretty entertaining.

There are some funny moments in W. A few of the famous Bush-isms are featured, although they are shifted in context to fit in with the drama of the film. One particularly outstanding scene is set in the ‘war room’ where Bush and his cabinet discuss the strategy of Iraq before the conflict begins. It’s like a cross between high-drama and Dr. Strangelove-esqe satire. As a document and comment of Bush’s time as President of the United States, Stone’s Bush isn’t that type of film. Subjects like that are more suited to documentary. But as a character drama, W. is quite entertaining. It does, however, feel unfinished. Had the film been made five, or even a year from now, I’d imagine it would have been quite different in many ways.


1 comment:

Marin Mandir said...

A very diplomatic review, if I may say so: neutral and sober.

Though I disagree that it comes in a strange time. His two terms are over, which means his role as a president is over. Thus, this film comes just at the right time, to examine his role as the president. But even if it was made in 2004, it could have been a film about his first term. There are no limits set at that. And considering all the controversies during his term, it's likely there will be more movies about him in the next 50 years, probably negative.

I have yet to see the film, so I can't judge if I agree with the review. But is seems interesting, though it seems the main actor doesn't really look like the ex-president.