Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn, Thandie Newton
MPAA rating: PG-13
Run Time: 110 minutes
After watching W., Oliver Stone’s biopic about President George W. Bush, I was left with the same feelings about the movie as I have about our esteemed leader. That is, neither is amusing or clever. Rather, they tend to be flatfooted, unsubtle; they have unresolved issues and they rarely delve into the inner life of George W. Bush. Both the film and George Bush succeed in portraying a president who lacks gravitas.
The film follows the strange life of W. from the alcoholic fog of his Yale fraternity days, his post-college screw-ups, his marriage to librarian Laura, his born again Christian epiphany, his baseball team ownership, his governorship of Texas, and finally to his presidency and the Iraq War.
The most dramatic and interesting moments in W. were the White House scenes of W. and his advisors discussing the Iraq War. The actors looked and felt authentic. Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men) gave a brilliant performance as a W. who was so far over his head that one almost felt sorry for him at times.
The actors who played W.’s advisors also shined. Richard Dreyfuss became Dick Cheney, complete with his scowl and his us versus them attitude. Thandie Newton was excellent as a prissy Condoleezza Rice. Jeffrey Wright played a sympathetic Colin Powell. It was painful to watch Colin Powell lose his moral and political standing in favor of the gung-ho Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn).
James Cromwell was first rate as W.’s disapproving patrician father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, who obviously favored Jeb Bush over the disobedient and rowdy W.
Aside from W.’s relationship with his father, the film explores little of W.’s character and motivations. Why did he want to marry the goody two-shoes Laura? And what did she see in him? What caused him to be “born again?” What did he really think about the debacle in Iraq?
Several times during the film, there are crosscuts to a grinning W. in a vacant baseball stadium acknowledging the cheers of an absent crowd. Does he regret his choice of a political career and cling to a childish dream of being a baseball star?
Perhaps, one should conclude that since W. lacks awareness of his own character and motivations, neither was explained in the film.
The day after I saw W., I glimpsed an online headline that read, “Cheney Experiences Abnormal Heart.” At first I thought that Cheney had seen his portrayal in W. and was going to mend his evil ways. But alas, it was only his heart muscle’s rhythm that was abnormal, not his heart.
Emily S. Mendel