First Takes |

First Takes

AP and Internet reports

In this image released by Lionsgate Pictures, Ellen Burstyn portraying Barbara Bush, left, and James Cromwell portraying George H.W. Bush are shown in a scene from the film, "W." (AP Photo/Lionsgate Pictures, Sidney Ray Baldwin) ** NO SALES **

“W.” ” All he wanted to do was watch baseball and drink beer all day. Sounds like a reasonable request. Instead, George W. Bush ended up being chosen as leader of the free world. Twice.

That’s Oliver Stone’s surprisingly fair and balanced take on the president, who truly needs no further parodying. Bush is an easy target anyway, and he inadvertently supplies enough ammunition on his own.

From the earliest announcements about the film, it seemed inevitable what we’d be in for: an evisceration. No other depiction could be possible from any director in Hollywood and especially not from Stone, who previously dug up the White House dirt with “JFK” and “Nixon.” Instead, Stone has come up with a rather conventional biopic, albeit one about a person whose decisions have affected the entire planet for the last eight years.

Considering its potential shock value, “W.” hits all the expected notes: It could be “Walk the Line” or “Ray” in that regard. We see young Dubya as a drunk fraternity pledge at Yale, where he foreshadows his legendary method of handing out nicknames; as a swaggering party boy meeting Laura Welch, the woman who would become his wife and his rock, at a backyard barbecue; and as a reluctant worker in the West Texas oil fields, where he asks in twangy Spanish before noon, “Donde esta la cerveza?”

He runs for Congress and loses, runs for Texas governor and wins, loses the booze and finds the Lord. Stone, working from a script by Stanley Weiser, doesn’t shed much new light on the 43rd U.S. president and often tries to explain away Bush’s flaws with pop-psychology insights about “daddy issues,” but he makes his evenhanded case in entertaining fashion.

As Bush himself, Josh Brolin certainly gets the innate humor within the frequent buffoonery ” and he’s got the voice and the demeanor down pat ” but he also seems to recognize the tragedy of this figure, a man who was in way over his head for one of the toughest jobs in the world. Brolin’s so good, he almost makes us feel sorry for Bush. Almost.

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