Stone’s ‘W.’ depicts president’s personal life
October 16, 2008
Writer/director Oliver Stone’s biopic “W.,” about our 43rd president, is an interesting gamble. On the one hand, you have a still-sitting president who is in the news daily, along with his inner circle, exposed on the big screen here in the “now,” while on the other hand, you have flashbacks of a man who was at times very reckless, and you find yourself thinking: What kind of legacy will this president leave?
How weird, too, having actors portraying people in the White House that still are working with a man who hasn’t even left office yet. The last time I can remember a movie being made about a president while he still was in office was director Leslie H. Martinson’s “PT 109,” about John F. Kennedy, that told about the president’s heroism during World War II, released in June 1963, barely five months before he was assassinated. Cliff Robertson played Kennedy. Ironically, Stone also did a movie about Kennedy that has been a barometer for fellow conspiracy theorists revolving around the assassination of Kennedy in November 1963. The movie was “JFK,” and it had its detractors when it was released in 1991, but it still was a very good picture.
He also did “Nixon” (1995), but, as mentioned earlier, this is the first time that he has taken on a project while the subject in question still has a job. I mean, there have been movies that showed a current president in office the same time that the movie was out (think “Contact,” released in 1997, with a brief cameo of President Clinton taken from a press conference), but not one that gives us a biographical look while the guy still is in office.
Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men”) turns in an incredible performance, showing us George W. Bush from a wide range of ages, and has the “look” down solid. I almost expected a “Saturday Night Live” sketch to break out but then realized this wasn’t supposed to be a parody. Or was it?
Stone says that he made the film without any particular slant to it, but when you start hearing some of those famous “Bushisms” and see why he was so bent on invading Iraq, you’ll probably ask yourself: Is this yet another movie that has that ever-so-familiar trademark of Hollywood written all over it?
All the actors turn in convincing performances when it comes to the political figures they’re portraying, including Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, and Bruce McGill (one of my favorite character actors of all time) as CIA Director George Tenet.
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However, two very exceptional actors really nailed down their Republican counterparts so well that you could swear it was almost really them: James Cromwell as George Bush Sr. and Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Dick Cheney.
The film opens after 9/11 with a cabinet meeting in the Oval Office. It is here that the famous catchphrase “axis of evil” first is introduced, and then we’re whisked back in time, peeking into the life of a young man who had a privileged life and loved to party. Everything is thrown in here, from being excessively drunk both in and out of college, getting hazed for a Yale frat-house initiation, to failed business ventures along the way, and you find yourself wondering how George W. Bush got as far as he did.
What is very apparent in Stone’s biopic is that, at its core, the movie explores the concept of father-son relationships, and that Dubya was really was the black sheep of the family while his brother Jeb (played by Jason Ritter) was the more favored son with the promising future in politics.
The Bush family is a political dynasty, for sure, with two very strong leaders in that family: Mom and Dad. Ellen Burstyn plays matriarch Barbara Bush, who pulls no punches about how she feels toward her sons. She even laughs (at first) at the thought that Dubya would even consider running for governor of Texas.
What really becomes a study in trying to win over Dad’s approval is when the current President Bush declares war on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. I’m not sure how presidential historians will record all this, but Stone (and screenwriter Stanley Weiser) make a very compelling argument that since the first President Bush was a target back in the ’91 Persian Gulf War (when Saddam was in power), it was just a matter of time before his son would one day seek revenge. Sort of like Vito Corleone from “The Godfather” settling an old debt by returning to the old country to kill the man who killed his mother.
The one thing that “W.” does show was that the president was very fortunate to hook up with an intelligent woman in the way of Laura Bush, who was going to stand by him no matter what he did. There’s a lesson in here, guys, if you’re lucky enough to find someone that loyal. One thing is for sure: It is no coincidence that this movie was rushed to hit the theaters right before the presidential election. Then again, that’s probably just the conspiracy theorist in me thinking that would be the motive of the filmmakers. Well?
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout Northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio, and you can see his film reviews on “Howie’s Late Night Rush” Monday through Friday at midnight on RSN. For past reviews, blogs and audio clips, visit http://www.HowieNave.com.