W. (8/10)

To talk about reviewing W., you first have to talk about your experience watching it.  I’m sure every audience someone watches it with is different, but watching my audience was particularly interesting – they would laugh heartedly at the slightest joke at Bush’s expense, and stay fairly silent for the rest of the movie. It was kind of awkward, and I think that’s exactly how Oliver Stone wanted it.

Most of the people in the theatre were obviously expecting a movie that would make fun of George Bush mostly at his expense, but Oliver Stone turns the tables (in an election year less than three weeks before voting day no less) and presents a simple look at a son who used his charms to rise to the top because he desperately wanted to make his father proud, and in an attempt to fulfill this, impossibly screwed himself over.

The screenplay is simple yet effective, aided mostly by the truly amazing performances, but we’ll get to those later. In the movie, we don’t get much about the events we know a lot about – but it doesn’t seem to be because Stone doesn’t want to focus on his mistakes – he blatantly has a scene in which Josh Brolin as George Bush walks out onto a battleship to give a victory speech in front of the Mission Accomplished banner. Rather, his choice to not include the major crises of George Bush’s eight years as president is because he knows that the audience knows them backwards and forwards,  and there’s no point in making us relive events like 9/11 simply so we can become more angry at him.

Stone isn’t interested in throwing any new stones at Bush. He knows it’s been done – and if it’s been done before, why bother to do itg again? It’s a daring directing choice, and in that he succeeds, even if the story does skimp slightly on larger issues in Bush’s life and instead keeps the central storyline strongly tied to George Bush, Sr, played by James Cromwell, in a towering, stately, and perfectly fatherly role.  Laura Bush is played by, unexpectedly, Elizabeth Banks, and she comes off surprisingly well, playing Cindy as a loyal wife, faithful all the way to the end. It’s a sweet love story kind of, in the movie. The thing to remember is that though W. strong central points are true, it is a fictional movie. Though Stone has said that he believes it to be an accurate representation of Bush, deciding will be up to you, dear reader.

To continue with the performances, Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice only gets a few lines, and though she’s effective, it seems like she’s playing her more like an SNL character than an imitation of the real person.  Richard Dreyfuss, after a very long casting process, was finally chosen for Dick Cheney, and like most of the cast, they’re not people who would come to mind first when thinking about the role – and though he doesn’t sound exactly like Cheney, the way he talks and his slightly devious side is perfectly done. He plays Cheney as creepy, but not overly so. The rest of the cast does just as well, for the most part, enhancing the slightly weak script with performances that truly are riveting, all the way down to W. himself.

Josh Brolin, in interviews beforehand, stated that he did not want to do an imitation or an impersonation of the man, along the lines of Will Ferrell or Tina Fey. He said he wanted to capture the man himself, the way he speaks, and who he was, and he did a very good job – it’s very easy to imagine the Bush we see now growing up the way Stone shows him doing so – though vast gaps are left in his life, you still get a sense that you could be watching George Bush grow up, and Josh Brolin ages him smoothly and seamlessly, a performance that could be worth an Oscar, but probably won’t get recognized.

W. has its flaws, though. Sometimes, when a huge mistake is made in the presidency, you get the feeling that Oliver Stone feels like the guy is more like a kid who screwed up than a grown man who may have seriously done something wrong. It’s a message that will probably be taken the wrong way by those viewers who wish to not like this movie, because I don’t think Oliver Stone intends to make light of George Bush’s errors – he’s simply giving perspective, offering what may be seen as our incumbent’s place in history down the line. It’s not a perfect movie, by far, but it is fascinating one, and it’s usually difficult to look away from the screen when Josh Brolin is on. Like it or not, this movie now has its place in history. You should probably see it.

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