Sunday, October 19, 2008


I'd heard reviews of this movie state that Josh Brolin's portrayal of George W. Bush is spot on and I'm here to tell you that if you close your eyes, you can barely tell the difference between the actor and the real thing. I know because I spent a good amount of time with my eyes closed during W.


Maybe if you're a political junkie, if you're riveted by C-Span, if you are transfixed by the State of the Union address, if--unlike me--you watched every single one of the recent debates instead of waiting for the SNL recap, you might find this movie fascinating.

I found it as intriguing as watching the stocks ticker running along the bottom of the TV screen or a PBS pledge drive break.

Oliver Stone has directed a lot of compelling and controversial films. Whether or not you think he's a crackpot conspiracy theorist nut job or not--you have to admit he presented an intriguingly coherent case in J.F.K. and his portrayal of a society gone celebrity mad teeters on the brink of brilliance in Natural Born Killers.

But this film doesn't push the envelope like his others. In fact, it teeters on the brink of boring. In an interview, Stone said "we tried not to cross the line of truth," but in adhering so doggedly to the facts, the film loses an opportunity to create a compelling narrative.

W. presents vignettes illustrating Bush's trajectory from partying frat boy to itinerant job-hopper and perennial paternal disappointment to President of the United States. The problem is, while these pieces of Bush's life are presented with dramatic verisimilitude, they don't add up to a coherent larger picture. While they succeed in illuminating the inexplicable evidence of the axiom, "Anyone can grow up to be President," they don't quite succeed in providing insight into what drove a mediocre good ol' boy to achieve the U.S. Presidency.

The film postulates that Bush Jr. was driven by a need for approval from Bush Sr., the inner workings of his mind and his unshakeable belief in the rightness of his positions loses out in the back and forth chronology between Bush's past and the launching of the Iraq war. Had Stone focused his attention on either the events leading up to the war or the events that shaped Bush's personality, it would have been a stronger film.

There are some excellent performances in the film--along with Josh Brolin, James Cromwell delivers as the austerely patrician George H. W. Bush, Elizabeth Banks never looked better going brunette to play wife Laura, Richard Dreyfuss is a positively Machiavellian Dick Cheney and Toby Jones nails the weaselly Karl Rove. The star-studded cast also features Noah Wyle, Stacy Keach and ubiquitous character actor Bruce McGill.

I wish Stone had delivered his usual pushing the boundaries type film. W. might have worked as satire, as twisted black comedy, as a political psycho-drama. But in choosing not to cross the line and play it safe, Stone sacrifices evocative and provocative for a dull docudrama.


  1. I do like politics and I'm interested in the subject matter but if it's a snoozer, it sounds like I can save some money and wait for this one to come out on dvd.

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  3. Esther,

    My co-worker Tom also saw it this past weekend and while he maintain consciousness throughout, he did agree it was pretty dry.