Movie Review: W.
By Eric Hughes
October 21, 2008
In my weekly Trailer Hitch column back in July, I smacked the trailer to Oliver Stone's W. with a big, fat F. I thought the preview, just the fourth I've labeled a failure since I started grading in June, was a bit sloppy and likely a poor attempt by Stone in creating something of value (no matter how well-cast — Brolin, Dreyfuss, Burstyn, Cromwell — his movie may be).
What I couldn't seem to grasp was why anyone would pay to see a (probable) biased look into the life of one of America's worst Republican presidents, courtesy of a particularly left-leaning director. Really? What's the point in that? Admittedly through the years I've rather enjoyed a good bit of Bush-bashing just like the next guy. But even so, this project simply looked like overkill.
To my surprise, though, I was convinced to see the picture in its opening frame. Even more surprising? I liked the thing.
What I never saw coming is Stone's outright sympathy towards Bush's eight years in office (and many more during his pre-political days). While watching the film, I felt — dare I say it — bad for the guy when taking into account the many horrible people he surrounded himself with in the White House. Moreover, the movie argues that Bush has never felt and probably never will feel that he's good enough in his father's eyes. Even landing a two-term gig as President of the United States pales in comparison to the successes of favored younger brother, Jeb.
Whether or not there's validity in every one of the movie's claims, and every single bit of dialogue, isn't of issue here. For me, it's more or less the core idea of Bush having grown accustomed to floating through life under the control of others. A personal set of puppeteers, if you will, whether they come from members of his family, his administration, his faith or other sources.
Though this is the way he lives his life — having moved through time without a clear sense of direction and place, having thing after thing fall in his lap — he does internally fight a battle over the shame of it, too. And this, which I find carries some truth in it, is the reason I've developed a new kind of respect for the man, no matter how many mistakes he's arguably made in his eight years as President.
Now, the film is also far from perfect. I assume some will be turned off by Stone's light, satirical approach in his storytelling. But where others may find a problem, I see entertainment. W. is fun. It's at times hysterical, really. And how could it not? Bush's inarticulateness alone — his famed "Bushisms" — leads to a massive archive of comedy material, which Stone carefully inserts into his movie. His renowned flub of the "Fool Me Once" proverb? Of course it's here.
But W.'s greatest strength is in its acting, principally in performances by Josh Brolin (a spot-on Bush), Richard Dreyfuss (Cheney) and James Cromwell (George Sr). Even the little bit parts, like Thandie Newton's impeccable Condoleezza and Rob Corddry's Ari Fleischer, are in the same league as the people featured in some of SNL's best political sketches. Indeed, I at first grew distracted from plot by the actors in deciding who seemed most like their real-life counterpart. But this is no fault of the movie. It's simply me taking the time to juxtapose Hollywood against reality.
Perhaps the movie's best moment, however, is right before the closing credits. Here, Stone takes the liberty in introducing the film's only bit of magic realism. Taking place in a ballpark (due in part to Bush's love for baseball), the scene symbolically depicts the "state" of Bush's life today, and what he's to do — or better put, can do — from this point on. It's a subtle, yet brilliant slice of fantasy.