Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Thandie Newton
Long gone were Presidents Kennedy and Nixon when Oliver Stone decided to dissect them back in the 1990s and those two films (JFK and Nixon) turned out just fine. With President George W. Bush, Stone is not only dealing with a sitting president, but is dealing with the fact that good ole W is among the most discussed presidents of all-time.
Go ahead, try and turn on a news station that isn’t discussing this man’s calamities. It’s impossible. That fact alone would dissuade most directors. But Stone handles W’s issues and dilemmas with a keen understanding and a unique freshness that results in a fascinating foray into W’s desire to break away from his family’s name, but at the same time be accepted by them. Let the debates begin.
Stone’s tactic isn’t to give the audience a lecture or a PowerPoint presentation on the 43rd President of the United States. W (Josh Brolin) isn’t like Lincoln or Washington, or, any president for that matter. Most of them are made out to be monuments, not alcoholic, spoiled, feckless men like the young W. Those prestigious presidents would fill the movie screen in searing dramas and portraits of history that would be directed by the likes of Spielberg.
W on the other hand is an anxious, everyday dreamer (MLB commissioner?) who is excited about life and the possibilities it contains. It just so happens that this rambunctious man won office twice and has endured, and can even be held responsible, for some of our country’s hardest times.
W is concentrated on offering splendid entertainment rather than the cold-hard facts. At one point, W’s parents are eating popcorn, relaxing while watching on television the Saddam Hussein statue being brought to the ground. W’s two terms in the White House equals entertainment.
And that is where the uniqueness enters Stone’s picture. His use of a non-linear narrative, bouncing back and forth between W’s present and past, is an intelligent move. In one scene, young W is getting initiated at a fraternity house, wrecking his car into George Sr.’s home, and the next he’s discussing the invasion of Iraq amongst his colleagues in the war room. The distance that this man travels from point A to point B – becoming a born-again Christian doesn’t hurt – is astounding.
Josh Brolin portrays W in both the flashbacks and present scenes. His ability to reveal W as a slacking young man with no direction home, and as an old man with grey hairs dealing with issues regarding America is downright impeccable. It can be said that this was the role he was born to play. His frustration not only mirror that of a troubled president, but that of a man who is confused in his own life. It is a tough performance, but Brolin delivers more goods than expected.
The flashback scenes going back to when W was in his college years are the most engrossing. Elizabeth Banks as W’s wife Laura is a knockout as a woman who had to deal with her husband’s ups and downs, and continues to do so. He had to deal with his parents as well, who always favored Jeb, his brother, over him. Stone makes it clear that George Sr. (James Cromwell) and Barbara (Ellen Burstyn) were to blame for W’s behavior. W, throughout his entire life, will be haunted by his father’s disapprovals.
How many countless parodies have been performed on various shows about W’s screw-ups or stupidity? You can’t keep track of all of them. Now enter Oliver Stone, controversial filmmaker, who loves to break norms and shake things up. His diabolical schemes and savvy arrangements catapult his films to achieve a level of flamboyance, mostly occurring within the confines of heavy subject matters.
Of course W isn’t perfect. It has its flaws as when Stone tries to disconnect the sincere comedy in order to attach something more powerful and thought provoking. There are too many characters with too much dialogue. Besides W, Vice President Dick Chaney, embodied wonderfully by Richard Dreyfuss, is the only interesting character in W’s cabinet that also includes Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton in a terrible performance), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Karl Rove (Toby Jones). Scenes involving all of them discussing WMDs and invading Iraq
are far too long because all of them want to inject their two cents.
Stone decorates W with point of view shots and dream sequences belonging to W. This is done wonderfully with slow motion shots and a solid soundtrack. Stone isn’t out to pulverize W – George Sr. liked to do that. Stone cringes at the fact. Concealed in Stone’s work, surprisingly, is a soft spot for W.
It is a pleasure to watch a robust rendering on a president who is looked down upon by society. Stone and Wall Street screenwriter Stanley Weiser depict W like no person, journalist or book has ever done; as a man who has a heart that is constantly being eaten away at. Deep down, by some unknown force, W paints a sympathetic picture of a president that we have been programmed to despise.
Commentary with Oliver Stone– The director injects his own opinion on Bush’s cabinet members making this commentary at times funny.
The Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Presidency (18 min) – Stone’s son, Sean, directed this feature that gathers analysts, former government employees and historians and asks them a bunch of questions regarding the administration of George W. Bush; nothing is held back.
Original Theatrical Trailer
DVD Rom Exclusive: W. Research & Annotation Guide- A DVD Rom that consists of annotations of the film, theatrical trailers and information regarding upcoming Lionsgate related films.
Rating: *** of ****