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Review: W. (2008) PG-13 133min

October 19th, 2008 by Maxim · 2 Comments · 7,086 Views


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Oliver Stone (Platoon (1986), The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), Nixon (1995), Alexander (2004)) directed this biographical dramedy about the current US president, George W. Bush. Written by Stanley Weiser. Starring Josh Brolin (American Gangster, In The Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men, Hollow Man etc.) and Elizabeth Banks (Definitely, Maybe (2008), Spider-Man 1-2-3 etc.).

The plot: This biography covers life of George W. Bush from his years in Yale as a member of cheer-leading team, fraternity member, his attempts to commit to a job, and finally becoming politician who eventually rose to presidency of the United States and the build-up for the war in Iraq.

The good: All actors have been chosen to resemble the looks of actual people, and everybody does an excellent, fantastic job playing these characters. Josh Brolin – I don’t know who could have played Dubya better. Of course, there are plenty of comedians doing impressions of Dubya, because he is such a great material, and there’s so much one can learn about him from his verbal and body language, so the actor’s work is not that hard when it comes to imitating him. However, Brolin’s performance is very strong. He carries the movie throughout and shows that there’s more to Dubya then what comedians portray him as. Can’t say the same about the “loyal Bushies”, Karl Rove (Toby Jones), the “dark lord” Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Condy Rise (Thandie Newton), Paul Bremer (Randall Newsome), Ari Fleischer (Rob Corddry) and Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris) – they were all hilarious characters – almost a comedic relief, not to diminish ridiculousness of Dubya himself and his decision making process.

Film jumps around in time a lot, but not uncomfortably so - film is edited very well. The opening scene is a meeting in the Oval Office in preparation to the Iraq war. Then the film jumps to the 60s where Bush is hazed in the old Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity with a bunch of spoiled rich brats who are, like Bush himself, bread to be the powerful people who run this country. The hazing also creates a reference to the water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” the Bush approved in his later years as president. The movie then shows him as an alcoholic, a son of a powerful man, who, in turn was a member of a powerful family. If I had to chose one characteristic of Bush that stand out throughout the movie – it’s that he always wanted to get out from the shadow of his father and do things his own way. Perhaps his addiction to alcoholism and unwillingness to study well in Yale or excel at any of the jobs he took with his father’s help were the direct result of not being able to prove to his father that he’s his own man. At least that’s what the movie implies, and so does one of the biographical books. And with every failure he was only disappointing his father even more, which only made things worse for him, and his desire to make his father proud or at least prove that H.W. Bush was always wrong about him and his abilities only increased over the years to a point of becoming an obsession. What made him pull through from alcoholic to president was that desire to be better then his father thinks of him, and also the fact that he “found God” (that complimented his incompetence with a sense of purpose), and… Karl Rove.

H.W. Bush in the movie is controlling and overbearing father, who prefers Jebb as the son who makes him proud - a good student, a politician, Florida Governor, perhaps a potential president! If only Junior didn’t cast negative light on the family’s name! He’s also the man who had the guts to win the Gulf Wat, but had wisdom not to occupy Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Stone seems to praise H.W. Bush for winning a war and getting out of it with little U.S. casualties: “This is a cleanest war in history of the United States!”.

W.’s biography then quickly runs over the years he’d been the governor of Texas and his becoming the president in 2000 took only 3 minutes to go through. The one event that the movie revolves around is the build-up to the Iraq war.

Fascinating to watch squabbles between Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss). The former is an experienced soldier who is trained to win wars and who knew in the ramp-up to the war in Iraq that there’s no exit strategy and latter, Cheney (the energy task force), confidently says, “No exit strategy – we stay!”. A short episode, but there’s so much to talk about and it’s one of the most insightful scenes in the movie. It goes to show that American military doctrine is designed to win wars, not to occupy countries. It shows that 9/11 was god-sent for the Bushies to go after Iraq – an opportunity, and this administration has proven many times that they can turn any problem or tragedy into an opportunity for themselves and their buddies. For Cheney, at least in the movie, Iraq was a country that “is floating on the sea of oil” and controlling the oil reserves of the planet is a key for the survival of the empire and a path to the world domination in the future. It’s also a key to surrounding Iran. In the movie these little political fights are funny and satirical, but in retrospect – that’s what’s so scary about this movie. Many things George Tenet and some retired CIA officers wrote about Iraq war are also repeated in the movie. For example, in his book, Tenet blames Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials for pushing the country to war in Iraq without conducting a “serious” debate about the merits of doing so.  “In retrospect we got it wrong partly because the truth [is that no unconventional weapons would be found in Iraq] was so implausible,” he writes. In the movie, Colin Powell doesn’t comprehend how far Cheney’s plans go: removing Saddam is only the first step to the world domination by controlling the oil supplies for “the rest of the civilized world”. And Bush has just heard the “call from God” to establish democracy everywhere in the world – “as long as we call the shots”.

There’s also famous appearance of Colin Powell in front of U.N. Security Council where he held a test-tube in his hand showing that a little amount a anthrax spores can do a lot of damage. Attempts to organize the “coalition of the willing” against the “axis of evil” failed, with only Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd) agreeing to participate in the Iraq affair.

Elizabeth Banks has done well as Laura Bush. Her role is short, but it’s interesting to see an insight into a character like her because I know so little about what kind of person she is.

There are any wonderfully re-enacted actual TV and public appearances by Bush – the most famous ones (David Letterman and Jon Stewart love to quote those). His famous landing on the air carrier and a speech under “Mission Accomplished” banner are also in the movie. The audience loved to relieve those moments, and many people in the theater were reciting the quotes out-loud.

Technically, this was one of the easiest movies to make: everything is shot in three or four rooms, or superemposed on the archival documentary footage. It only took 46 days to shoot this movie on the budget of less then $30 million.

The bad: W. is based on memoirs of former Bush associates and obviously all the TV footage out there. The movie is well made, but lacks one thing that other Stone’s movies always had – a point of view. He’s just going over the most talked-about incidents in his life. There’s a lack of moral compass.

Jebb Bush is practically not present in the movie. There’s no 9/11 in the movie. If this is a biography, then wouldn’t president’s reaction to the biggest tragedy in recent history be an important factor in describing who he is?

I’m also tired of Cromwell playing The President.

The summary: W. quickly runs through the biography of the living president and portraying him as a dramatic, if not tragic, hero. Many comical and satirical elements in the movie, but the fact that people like him can become ones in charge of a country like ours, and the way the “Bushies” took advantage of 9/11 to go after Iraq and make a joke out of the Constitution is really scary. At the same time I doubt the movie will be controversial.

Memorable quotes:

H.W.Bush to Dubya: “Partying? Chasing Tail? Driving Drunk? Who do you think you are – Kennedy?”

Dubya: “What’s that you got there?”
Cheney: “Authorization to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on enemy combatants”
Dubya: “3 pages? Good.”

The cast: George W. Bush - Josh Brolin | George Herbert Walker Bush - James Cromwell | Laura Bush – Elizabeth Banks | Saddam Hussein - Sayed Badreya | Paul Wolfowitz - Dennis Boutsikaris | Barbara Bush - Ellen Burstyn | Ari Fleischer - Rob Corddry | Dick Cheney - Richard Dreyfuss | Jacques Chirac - Charles Fathy | Gen. Tommy Franks - Michael Gaston | Donald Rumsfeld - Scott Glenn | Tony Blair - Ioan Gruffudd | Karl Rove - Toby Jones | George Tenet – Bruce McGill | Paul Bremer – Randall Newsome | Gen. Colin Powell – Jeffrey Wright

The crew: Director – Oliver Stone | Screenplay – Stanley Weiser | Producers – Bill Block, Moritz Borman, Teresa Cheung, Elliot Ferwerda, Peter D. Graves, Paul Hanson, Eric Kopeloff, Christopher Mapp, Tom Ortenberg, Thomas Sterchi, Matthew Street, David Whealy, Albert Yeung | Music - Paul Cantelon | Photography – Phedon Papamichael | Lionsgate

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Rated 3/5 on Oct 19 2008
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Tags: Comedy · Documentary · Drama · Movies · USA

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 movie fan // Oct 24, 2008 at 12:04 pm

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    Josh Brolin did a convincing Dubya, though it reminded me a lot of his cowboy character from No Country for Old Men… over all, i don’t doubt that ‘W.’ will have the effect Oliver Stone desired

  • 2 current movie reviews // Apr 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm

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    I was actually impressed by the way Oliver Stone portrayed George W. Bush. I thought he was going to really tear into him based on his politics and I think he actually came out and was effective in showing a bit of sympathy for the character. Overall I think you are right on with your 3/5 stars review.

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