Friday, October 17, 2008

Oliver Stone's W.

Film: W. (2008, Lionsgate)

Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, James Cromwell, Scott Glen, Toby Jones, Rob Corddry, Dennis Boutsikaris, Jason Ritter, Randall Newsome

Rating: 71%

Oliver Stone's latest film, W., is somewhat a mess. Not an all together unwatchable mess, but one that fails to say anything of much importance. No doubt this movie will attract a number of people interested in the upcoming election, and it may even sway some of the swing votes towards Obama, yet it's insights into the motives of Bush and his administration are still muddled and unclear. The film is centred around the lead up to the Iraq War and the subsequent inability of the administration to produce any WMDs in war torn Iraq. As well, spliced throughout the film are incidents and important moments of Bush's past that are intended to help the film goer understand the 43rd president better. Trouble is, they don't.

Stone has been quoted as saying that he approaches these type of biopic movies in a non-bias, even empathetic way. This would most certainly explain the over blown 'daddy issues' throughout W. We are constantly hit over the head throughout this entire movie with how hard the elder Bush was on 'poor' W., and how everything Bush Jr. did was an attempt to win over his father. Now this angle would have been interesting if it would have been more tied into the fact that family bickering was being played out on the world stage through a massive assault on Iraq, but this was not the angle that Stone played up most in this sub plot of W.. Instead, we are subjected to scenes of jealousy and petty arguments. Therefore, we are left with a picture of Bush as a sniveling, whiny, spoiled rich kid with daddy issues. This may be a spot on characterization, but it does little to explain why he has done certain things such as, signing off on the Patriot Act, agreeing to the continued use of torture or his complete and utter disregard for the UN.

The other main thread that runs throughout the movie is the issue of religion in W's life. Unlike most of the other stories surrounding the Christian rebirth of George W., Stone hints toward a more complex reason for his rebirth. In W., we see that Bush Jr. does not give up booze and his irresponsible days because he was hurting his family or spiraling out of control, rather he did it because he came to a realization that a Christian rebirth was a way in which he could garner more support in his bid to run for the position of Texas Governor. As he tells his wife in one of the more intimate and personal scenes of the movie, "I will not be out Texased again in this election". Therefore, through this approach by Stone, or maybe just through my over analyzing of this movie, we come to see George W. in a different light, a more conniving and sinister light. Is he really a born again Christian, or is this all an act in order to increase his political relevance in Texas? I would have to say it was the latter of the two. Not only did Bush Jr.'s born again Christian schtick work magic for him in the Republican primaries in 2000, but there is also a telling scene in W., where Bush Jr. tries to have his father come out as a born again in order to help in his bid for election and re-election. Not only was he okay with using rebirth to further his own career, but he also saw it as a legitimate tool for his father to gain and retain the presidency. A very conniving, and some would even say brilliant political move. Maybe Bush Jr. isn't a complete idiot. Wait, that might be going a bit too far, he definitely is still an idiot.

As for the cast, Stone and his casting director did a terrific job selecting actors who not only shared a striking resemblance to their real life characters, but who also had the acting chops to pull off performances that were not simply comedic parodies. Josh Brolin does a good job in the lead role, playing up the simplicity of his character. He is also helped by Stone, who utilizes a number of tight close ups on Brolin in order to really give a sense of confusion and bumbling when Brolin is on the screen. Other standouts included Jeffery Wright, as Gen. Colin Powell, who was able to bring tension to the scenes involving the cabinet, and Toby Jones, as Karl Rove, who was hideously ugly and frighteningly controlling behind the scenes throughout this film. There was no cast member who seemed out of place, and with a better script, who knows what this cast might have been able to accomplish.

For those looking for reassurance or further proof that Bush is an idiot or a poor leader there is lots of material in this movie including, the infamous pretzel choking incident, many bumbling speeches and a number of drunken moments. But for those looking for a more intimate look at George W., one with exacting insights into major decisions made by the president and his administration, W. comes up short. I would say it is a film worth checking out, just go into it knowing what you are going to get; a somewhat dark comedy with little or no real political or personal substance.

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