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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very good movie, but not the classic it wants to be. It's
funny and tragic, although not too informative if you've read a
newspaper with any regularity over the last eight years. In short,
there are no surprises.
Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance as W., and the supporting cast is generally superb, although Jeffrey Wright, Richard Dreyfuss, and James Cromwell particularly stand out. Thandie Newton is hysterically funny as Condie Rice, but it's an SNL-type parody, not an emotionally honest performance.
The film is obviously meticulously researched and carefully considered, which is why the sequences that are clearly either utter conjecture or merely political finger-pointing stand out by a mile.
Bush -- whom I personally despise for his offensive combination of idiocy and self-righteousness -- is treated with fairness and sensitivity. The effort here is obviously to fashion him as a tragic hero; a man who genuinely wants to do good but simply doesn't grasp how hard that is, especially when surrounded by the likes of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney (who is, very specifically, the villain of the piece, as he is in life). And it generally works. I found myself feeling bad for the poor guy.
However, while trying to make W. a sympathetic character, Stone pushes his theme -- "It Was All To Prove Himself To Daddy" way too far. He overplays his hand, including a mood-breaking dream sequence near the end. There simply has to be more to George W. Bush than that..... doesn't there? The film ultimately plays much, much better when Stone relies on actual transcripts and information gathered by experienced reporters, and those sequences, whether they are cabinet meetings, press conferences, or more personal moments, snap and zing.
With his "in the moment" biopic "W." the normally volatile Oliver Stone
wisely saves his judgments for history when hindsight will be 20/20.
Achingly subdued and slightly satirical, Stone plays it straight and to
the bone. Here he presents us with the early years of our current lame
duck president, showing Dubya rushing a frat-house at Yale, meeting
Laura at a barbecue, living in the shadow of his father and brother,
his troubles holding down a job, his failed bid to become baseball
commissioner, and his defining moment when he gives up drinking and
becomes born-again. All of which leads us to his first term and the
Iraq War quagmire, where Dubya honest-to-goodness truly believes "God"
wanted him to become president and that Iraq did have those rascally
In the lead role, Josh Brolin is an endearingly bumble-headed Dubya, and Stone presents him as a simple-minded man with good intentions who has been crippled by his "daddy issues" and has surrounded himself with the most cynical, self-serving, and corrupt administration in modern American history. The supporting cast is a hoot, with highlights including Thandie Newton eliciting big laughs just with her facial expressions as a wicked and moronically faithful Condi Rice, Elizabeth Banks giving a winning portrayal of Laura Bush, and Richard Dreyfuss playing Cheney as the most insipid megalomaniac American politics has ever seen.
Stone accomplishes three major coups here that should surprise those who expected a one-sided liberal smear job. First, he humanizes George W. Bush. The director does this with savvy editing showing the back-story of why Dubya does the things he does (i.e. why he uses nicknames for everyone or why running three miles every day is so important to him), and then juxtaposing that with the inane decisions he has made as president. By utilizing actual transcripts from press conferences, news coverage, and meetings, Stone and scribe Stanley Weiser allow Bush and his administration to speak for themselves, and it's both comically cathartic and occasionally frightening to see it dramatized so well. Second, he redeems the presidency of George "Poppy" Bush (a somewhat miscast but still effective James Cromwell) by showing what a restrained and thoughtful Commander in Chief he was compared to his naive and too-eager-to-please son. Thirdly, he redeems the legacy of Colin Powell (a surprisingly good Jeffrey Wright), who is shown here as the only person in the administration with any hindsight or foresight, and the only sane voice who questioned the motives for entering Iraq, though he eventually caved in and played along. His "f-you" to Cheney towards the film's final act is priceless.
As the actual presidency still has a few months to go at the time of the film's release, Stone's biopic was never written a true ending, leaving us with a symbolic image of Dubya looking up to the sky in center field waiting to catch a ball that will never drop. It may be another twenty years before we can pass any accurate judgment on Dubya's legacy, and likewise, Stone's film will have to wait. It's going to be a long time before anyone catches all those balls George W. Bush's administration threw up in the air.
Lefties expecting a hatchet-job will be as disappointed as Righties
expecting a hatchet-job. Demonstrating decency and restraint far beyond
what his subject is deserving of, Oliver Stone demonstrates rare wisdom
and the hindsight of someone trying to understand this period of
history from a standpoint of decades in the future. He creates a film
that swings wildly between comedy and tragedy, tragi-comedy and comic
tragedy in his portrait of a man who though born to privilege, needs to
have greatness thrust upon him-and is not up to the task he seeks. It
is , and I do not use this term lightly: Shakespearean.
Josh Brolin's Oscar-worthy performance manages two amazing feats: 1) He makes you forgot you are watching Josh Brolin as he portrays W. over a 40-year period and 2) He makes even a left-leaner like myself forget how much one may hate George W. Bush. I just wanted to yell at the screen ala Rocky Horror, "You seem to be a nice guy who enjoys people...stay with baseball!!!" All of the supporting cast of characters in the Bush Dynasty are handled with dignity and respect (particularly James Cromwell as Bush the First), and Stone is decent enough to leave the Bush Twins out of it. Jeffrey Wright might be up for a Best Supporting Actor nod for his thoughtful and restrained portrayal of Colin Powell.
I am racking my brain trying to remember when recent history was made into such a vital film; this is the antithesis to a quickie made-for-TV movie about Amy Fischer and the like.
One word sums up how I felt while watching W: uncomfortable.
I went into this film expecting more of an absurdist comedy than a tragedy. The level of realism was far beyond what I expected. For the most part, the cast, makeup, and casting crew did such a good job with the characters that it was very easy to imagine that these were not actors on the screen but the actual people. Josh Brolin's characterization of W was certainly Oscar-worthy.
Even better than Brolin's part was Phedon Papamichael's photographic direction. The job of the Director of Photography is to bring the story to life through the creation of images to draw the attention of the viewer where the Director wants. Few films are as good of an example of this as W. Papamichael used the camera to force moral and emotional perspective in a way that I have rarely seen outside of the films of Stanley Kubrick. I've only seen the film once, viewing it as a complete work. I intend to watch it again to study the photography.
Overall, I thought the film was fair in its treatment of the actual people involved. The most ardent Bush supporters will not like it, but to still be that supportive of him in the final months of his second term, you either have to not be paying attention or be uncritical in all of your thought. While artistic license was taken throughout the film, the portrayal of all events and people, with the possible exception of Dick Cheney, were far more grounded in reality and recorded history than I expected.
The film made me uncomfortable on multiple levels, which is why it succeeds and deserves such a high rating. The portrayal of Bush's relationship with his parents, especially his father, forces the viewer to feel sorry for him. The overt religiosity that pervades the public service portion of his life must anger anyone who believes strongly in the separation of church and state. There are many moments when, with any other characters, the film should have generated much laughter. Only one moment in the film actually caused more than one person in the theater to laugh. I guess 4000+ dead soldiers drains the humor out of even the most hilarious gaffes.
I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to see a realistic portrayal of historical events. I wish Stone had waited until Bush was out of office to make it, though. While it captures the major events that were involved in building the Bush legacy, it ends far too early.
I used to be an Oliver Stone fan. But after Natural Born Killers I read
in an interview that he had doubts about continuing his directing
career. "I don't think I have another good movie in me".
Well, I still think that he does, but W. isn't it. The reason I like and watch Oliver Stone films is that he has a strong opinion about a subject. One that isn't mainstream, but expresses it in such a way, that he wins his audience and therefore can change popular opinion. The best examples for this are Platoon and JFK.
Oliver Stone makes a decision with this film which I do not like. The life and times of George W. Bush offer enough subject matter to make a powerful, semi-documentary film with hard hitting political and religious views that would sturr up popular belief. But instead of going for the jugular, Stone takes W. on his knee, pats him gently on the head and says: "I know, son. I get it." The film has all the elements that make W. the infamous guy that he is: the invention of axes-of-evil, God is on the side of good (The US of A), W.'s history of failed business, tale-chasing and alcohol abuse. Add the wheeling and dealing by the Bush-dynasty and you would think it's dynamite stuff.
But it's not. The script is superficial. Tame at best. Stone is not good at satire and this film shows us why. Anyone who reads the Sundaypaper and watches the nine-o-clock news could have written this movie. It has the character motivation of a soap-opera. The father-son relationship for me was totally unbelievable. I expected a true depiction, with close source material. But it has become an imagined portrait by the screenwriter. Another thing that disappointed me was the lack of insight into the kitchen of the (right-wing) Bush-Administration, more over: the infiltration of the Hawks in the White House.
This film doesn't add anything new or reveal any new insights. The movie is based on research done by outsiders. I knew every detail of this movie because I am up to current events. I don't want a summation and lovable depiction of a man who is responsible for eight very defining years of US foreign policy. I wanted new insights, make me doubt my own beliefs and discuss this with friends and on message boards. The end result has me shrugging my shoulders and saying: Eehh..., so what?
Saw W in a preview last night and overall found it engaging, provocative and, frankly, a bit eerie. Of course, because Mr. Bush is still in office, watching re-enactments of critical moments in his administration, still fresh in our memory, has a quality of watching an SNL spoof; one is always aware one is watching actors, and very good ones at that, play the parts of principal figures on the Bush team, leaving a viewer continually comparing the actors' portrayals, make-up, etc, with the real life figures we know from the news. In other words, the film never completely transcends the spectacle of its simulation to feel seamlessly naturalistic. This is hardly a fault of the film necessarily, only the curious timing of its making and release here in the waning months of the Bush administration. (Had the film been made several years from now, no doubt audiences would bring a different. more relaxed, attentiveness to it.) I won't spell out my conclusions on Stone's version of Bush - that for you to discover - however, I will say it is fully appropriate we allow our private and public preconceptions of Bush the man to be challenged and examined. There is more to be said about the man than merely we like or dislike him. After all, we put him in office for eight years, and that says a great deal about us as a nation.
I had a chance to see this film on Wednesday and I loved it !!! I'm not
a Bush fan or supporter, however what I loved most about it is that it
isn't a Bush-hate fest. Rather, it was a successful attempt to show
Bush as simply a man with several human foibles, many of which just
happen to be hilarious.
What makes the movie so amusing is that Stone miraculously finds a way for you to not laugh at Bush the man. Rather, one laughs at the improbability of the entire Bush saga.
Against that backdrop is the importance of the fine performances given by the actors.
Some actors, like Banks as Laura Bush, give performances that are good but that are altogether too predictable and uninspired.
On the other hand, Brolin nails his performance as he turns Bush from a doofus to a poor schmuck that finds out too late that he's in over his head.
Newton is the OTHER BRIALLIANT performance in the film. Although, some critics apparently wanted the average TV-Movie-muck type of performance where the actress finds the "lighter side" of the real life person, Newton and Stone smartly resist that trite nonsense.
Newton transcends her own glamorous persona and gives a hard-as-nails imitation of Rice as a person that is smart enough to understand and follow those that actually have the power in the Bush White House as she helps them manipulate Bush to acquiesce to their desires.
Newton's performance successfully evokes images of the Rice that recently went to Russia and had the nerve to coolly and robotically lecture Putin on why it's OK for the U.S. to travel half the globe to punish those who kill Americans, but it's not OK for Russia to go over its border to punish those that kill Russian citizens.
It's one of the gutsier performances all year by anyone, male or female, and it really helps make the movie great.
As I stated at the beginning W. is great, and we finally get a movie that appeals to those of us that don't want to waste $10 bucks on a film about a Hollywood Chihuahua.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie at my friend's insistence, and watching it while
drinking a beer seemed more fun than sitting at home. In retrospect,
only the beer was worth my time. Not that it's an irredeemably bad
film... some of the sections depicting George Bush's early life are
interesting, and the whole thing is technically well done. But when the
film gets into his presidency, we're treated to impersonations rather
W (Josh Brolin) is the prodigal son of the wealthy and influential Bush family, and the film depicts a series of unfocused episodes or vignettes that led up to his assuming the presidency of the United States. Bush is depicted, probably correctly, as a man virtually without intellectual curiosity. His family life is left very much untouched outside of his relationship to wife Laura, perhaps out of respect for the Bush children who after all did not ask for such scrutiny. I did enjoy the aspects of the story that touched on his relationship with his father, President George Bush (James Cromwell). Nothing else in the film had much interest or gave us much information outside of what's readily available.
I think it was a mistake for Oliver Stone to make this film during Bush's presidency, when there is no fresh perspective and when audiences are already so used to seeing the man on TV that attending the theater to see him represented seems pointless. And it not only seems pointless, but in Oliver Stone's rambling and unfocused film it actually is pointless in my opinion. What's the idea behind this film anyway? "George W. Bush is a human being." Wow, give the man a cookie. It might be interesting to people decades from now but at this point everything in the film is common knowledge and a lot of the things you see in the film you might as well just watch the original footage on youtube. There are also a lot of jarring performances -- Thandie Newton's take on Condoleeza Rice comes off as cartoonish and silly, and yet Jeffrey Wright's take on Colin Powell seems nothing like the man we've known in public service for decades. It's as if half the performers thought they were doing a re-enactment while the other half were being directed to play it broad from the hip.
Oliver Stone deserves the blame for this stinker. I simply cannot fathom why he's considered by so many to be a good director. He had some talent as a screenwriter, but his whole task as director seems to be to produce glossy post-cards of history that probably never happened. He's like a Cecil B DeMille for our times. Not that I doubt the overall points that the film makes about our 43rd president, but more I wonder why anyone feels the need to make them at this point. The film does not address any of the worst aspects of Bush's career in the presidency and lets him off the hook by portraying him as a mere incompetent who was persuaded by Rove and Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) to be a devil's accomplice. Real history must be more complicated than whatever happens in Oliver Stone's head. This film is afraid to step on anyone's toes so it ends up being dull. It should have gone one way or the other -- courted controversy by depicting Bush as a kind of hero or villain. Instead we get a very tepid representation of him as a well-meaning loser. Whether it's close to reality or not should be for historians and true political observers to say, but I don't see much point in basing a film on such a middle of the road interpretation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Disappointing! While no person is perfect this portrays all in this fill as if they were all the three stooges and a power hungry leader that wanted to make the final decision. I cannot believe this is an accurate portrayal of individuals in privet conversations and in classified meetings. I have seen other Stone movies and enjoyed them and got the point. I think it may be time to retire and accomplish other life goals. To indicate that W. went to Iraq to get even for "poppy" and for oil was unrealistic and shows just how thin this story line really was developed. The acting was well done, with the individual mannerisms but the character of the individuals were corrupted from the people that we know them know them to be. I would have to rate this on as a must miss even on TV.
Oliver Stone and Josh Brolin manage the impossible by giving a present reality a sort of farcical look. Frightening to see how easily the farce and the reality merge and marry in the most natural way. George W, eats his way into history. The most mediocre of men drowning in a pool of his own making and in a way, drowning all of us with him. But, somehow, neither Stone nor Brolin describe a monster. On the contrary, here the monstrosity is in our hands. The man was voted (sort of) twice. Richard Dreyfuss IS Dick Cheney. A terrifying truthful performance. Thandie Newton is the one really out there. She plays her "yes woman" like Talia Shire in the Godfather III. Very bizarre, but fun. So, the biggest surprise is that Stone didn't come with a hatchet but with a magnifying glass. Seeing what we already knew but a bit larger made for a riveting evening at the movies.
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