*1/2 (out of 5)
October 17, 2008
Josh Brolin as GEORGE W. BUSH
Elizabeth Banks as LAURA BUSH
James Cromwell as GEORGE H.W. BUSH
Richard Dreyfuss as DICK CHENEY
Toby Jones as KARL ROVE
Directed by: Oliver Stone
BY KEVIN CARR
I have to be honest. I really don’t know who Oliver Stone made his new film “W.” for. Hard-nosed conservatives aren’t going to want to see the Republican president skewered, no matter how low his approval numbers are. Similarly, die-hard liberals haven’t been taking a shine to it either as they would rather focus on the future in the hopes that Obama will win the election.
I’ve talked with several far-left liberal film critics, and the consensus among them is that the film doesn’t go far enough in taking on the President. They wanted a bigger hatchet job done on the man, and you’d think Oliver Stone would have been the guy to deliver that.
Still, “W.” isn’t soft on Bush by any stretch of the imagination. As far as biopics go, it’s not terribly well constructed. It’s better than Stone’s “Nixon” simply because it’s shorter by about 30 percent and has more laughs. Most of these laughs come from the numerous Bushisms that the title character says throughout the film. However, these minimal chuckles aren’t enough to carry the film.
Anyone seeing this movie must understand that Oliver Stone always brings a bell-hop cart loaded with baggage to almost every one of his films. This film is no different. However, in Stone’s attempt to humanize Bush (like he did trying to humanize Nixon), he turns him into a caricature.
The acting isn’t necessarily the caricature because Josh Brolin actually does a commendable job playing our 43rd President. The routine gets a bit schticky at times, but for the most part, he gives a spot-on performance for what most of us will recognize as Bush’s public persona.
The rest of the cast is numerous and well respected. Some of the characters stand out, like Richard Dreyfuss’s take on Dick Chaney and Toby Jones’ version of Karl Rove. Others are embarrassing, like Thandie Newton in her uncomfortable and grating impersonation of Condoleezza Rice. Still others slip through the cracks, like Scott Glenn’s wallflower take on Donald Rumsfeld.
Of course, the one performance that made me chuckle was James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush, in which Cromwell didn’t even attempt an impression. However, with so many famous people playing famous people to varying degrees of quality, it seems like a weak Saturday Night Live sketch without the jokes.
Stone, who also co-wrote the script, presents George W. Bush not as a hero and patriot, but also not as the antichrist. Rather, he paints the character as a bumbling moron who practically stumbles into the Presidency. In this sense, he does a disservice to both sides of the political spectrum.
I don’t care what side of the aisle you fall on, one should acknowledge that anyone who makes it to the White House – let alone gets elected for a second term – is a pretty smart cookie. I’m not just talking about Bush, but about Clinton, Reagan, FDR or Teddy Roosevelt. This is not an easy task, and to dismiss that person as a blithering idiot ignores reality.
The film itself is short for some of the work Oliver Stone has done, but it does drag on a bit. For the most part, Stone stays away from his burring artistic desire and doesn’t over-stylize the show as he did with “Nixon.” However, he can’t resist symbolism and artistic moments, especially in the last fifteen minutes during which the film completely unravels into a mess of celluloid.
I suppose the middle-of-the-road Bush critics will enjoy this movie as a light-hearted romp through the 43rd Presidency. But for the rest of us, don’t feel bad if you vote absentee for “W.”