Movie Review: W.
By Matthew Huntley
October 24, 2008
I've almost no doubt George W. Bush will go down in history as the worst president of the United States. Considering his numerous blunders, if ever there was a man more unqualified to lead the free world, it was "Dubya." His hasty decisions, unjust policies and gross misleading of the American people have caused seemingly irreparable damage. Yet, what's baffling is that Bush's history prior to his presidency - as a son, a student and a governor - never suggested he was ever right for the job, so it's sort of amazing he could be elected to the most powerful position on earth in the first place - twice! How could that happen?
Oliver Stone's W. doesn't suggest there's an easy answer to that question (one may not exist), but it does show the circumstances under which Bush decided to run for president and how his sheer will and determination (not to his mention powerful friends and family) helped put him there. Such a feat is remarkable in and of itself, but the fact that enough people gave Bush their support (and continue to give their support) remains one of the most perplexing stories of the 21st century.
Stone, the director behind such condemning films as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, doesn't slant W. the way we expect. It's hardly edgy and Stone doesn't seem interested in making a parody or a biting satire. For a film about a controversial politician, it's surprisingly objective and straightforward. It doesn't brazenly criticize the titular character, despite Bush's tarnished reputation and low approval ratings.
I admire Stone's detached strategy. After all, what would be the point of more derision? Can anybody, least of all Hollywood, really denounce Bush any further? We've already been there and done that. Stone simply wants us to watch Bush and become mesmerized by his own natural ineptitude and reprehensible behavior. Observing him is all it takes to form an opinion. Almost no spin is needed from the director. We know how he feels.
In the film, Bush is played by Josh Brolin, who impeccably captures the nuances, body language and simplified speech of the 43rd president. It helps that Brolin resembles Bush, with his rough, dry skin and medium build, but Brolin's performance isn't just physical. He embodies the man and refrains from merely mocking or imitating him, which is probably difficult since it would be so easy to fall into that trap. The first time we see him, in an extreme close-up, standing in the center of an empty baseball stadium, we believe Brolin is Bush.
The film opens in 2002, as Bush and his advisers - Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (Toby Jones), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) - brainstorm a phrase for the supposedly collective enemies of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. They eventually came up with "Axis of Evil," and right then we're reminded of how little each man and woman in the Oval Office thinks about consequences, perhaps with the exception of Powell, who succumbed to pressure from his colleagues.