"Oliver Stone's "W." is one of the year's most absorbing films, and that's because, as the tagline suggests, it reveals that George W. Bush has been greatly misunderestimated. Watching this film, we see not the forty-third President of the United States, the former Governor of Texas, or even a politician in general. From my perspective, we're being told about an insecure man who reaches too far in an attempt to earn his father's approval. This movie is not a political commentary--it's a character study. Better still, it's a character study that's more or less historically accurate, with Stone and writer Stanley Weisner relying on published works and in-depth reports for the screenplay. Liberties were obviously taken; after all, there's no way anyone could know exactly what was said behind closed doors. But all the basic scenarios are well documented, which is to say that the film never once felt contrived. The end result is a compelling, complex, and occasionally funny examination of a person who always has something to prove.
Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the title character, flawlessly capturing the mannerisms and diction we've become so familiar with over the last eight years. We see him as a determined but incompetent man who claws his way up to the presidency without the necessary skills. Pay close attention to scenes featuring W. in staff meetings; it quickly becomes clear that political heavyweights like Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), and even the infuriated Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) are making all the important decisions. As for W., well, let us not forget that the real President Bush publicly declared that his faith in God influenced his foreign policy decisions. In the film, he ends every meeting by having everyone bow their heads in prayer; I expected nothing less from a man who found God at age forty, when he was in the thick of his AA treatment. In 1999, he tells his pastor (Stacy Keach) that, even though he had no desire to be President of the United States, it was God's will that he campaign.
The film also takes some time to develop the relationship between W. and his wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), who he met at a friend's barbecue while running for Congress for the first time. In the film, Laura Bush is sweet, understanding, and patient, and it's easy to believe the love she feels for her husband. She seems to regard W. the same way a mother regards a baby taking its first steps: She encourages him endlessly, and she's always there to support him if he should trip and fall somewhere along the way. At that pivotal stage of W.'s life, the world of politics is so new and challenging that he needs all the support he can get.
One of the most interesting things about this film is the structure. Rather than a complete chronological biography, Stone opted for non-linear fragments, starting in 2002 but then flashing back to 1966 before going to 2003, and so on and so forth. He also chose to omit specific events in Bush's life; we see neither the 2000 nor the 2004 election, and we're spared the tragedies of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. This will undoubtedly frustrate certain audiences. I didn't have a problem with it, and that's because this film is about his personality, not his political career. As the pieces of the story come together, we discover the man behind the president: he was a C-average college student who spent most of his time getting drunk; he gambled and went through women; he seemed to take no interest in holding a job; he was always at odds with his disapproving parents, who seemed to favor his younger brother, Jeb.
There's a moment in a 1970s flashback when W. comes home drunk and announces that he was accepted into Harvard Business School. When his mother (Ellen Burstyn) demands to know why he never told them, he admits that he never intended to go--he just wanted to prove to his father (James Cromwell) that he could do it. This doesn't please Poppy Bush very much, and that's because it was his own string pulling that got his son accepted in the first place. There's a definite rivalry between the two, one that W. drags all the way to 2003, the year he decided to invade Iraq. Colin Powell, who in 1991 oversaw Operation Desert Strom along with Dick Cheney, makes it clear that Saddam Hussein had no hand in the 9/11 attacks. That doesn't matter, decides W.; he wants to finish the job his father failed to finish back when he was President. Besides, there's evidence to suggest that Hussein is concealing weapons of mass destruction.
But I'm not convinced he actually believed this to be true. It seemed more likely that he was just going along with what others were saying. Oliver Stone describes George W. Bush as a Western hero so one-tracked, he refuses to back down even when he's wrong. "There's just no examination of the interior life," he said in an "L.A. Weekly" interview. "He doesn't look back. He doesn't regret. He doesn't seem to read very much--or think very much--about what he does." Some may be compelled to take pity on W. after seeing this movie; it paints a picture of a man who wanted nothing more than to own a baseball team. Others, I'm sure, will not have their minds changed one bit. Whatever your reaction, I personally feel that this is one of the year's best films, presenting us with a fascinating character study rather than a scathing political commentary."
Not the movie you'd expect from Oliver Stone...but still a v
Beth Cholette | Upstate NY USA | 10/20/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"To be honest, I am a liberal who went to this movie expecting to see a funny parody of George W. Bush along the lines of a Michael Moore film. While I did laugh at times during the film, I left the movie feeling strangely sympathetic towards poor W. Stone plays it surprisingly straight, presenting Bush as the kid who had trouble finding his way as a grown-up. The main focus here is on Bush's relationship with his father, particularly his efforts to constantly try to please George the elder and falling short, especially when compared with his brother Jeb. Stone effectively weaves in flashblacks from Bush's college and early adult years with his first term as President. Some major events, including the 2000 election and September 11th, are given almost no attention, but again, that's not the main focus of the film.
The movie is superbly cast. Josh Brolin does an amazing job as W.; he manages to capture Bush's mannerisms in a portrayal that is uncannily accurate without becoming a caricature. Then there's James Cromwell, who looks and sounds nothing like George Bush senior but somehow manages to depict the former President perfectly just the same. Most of the other supporting roles are excellent as well, from Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney to Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell; the one exception was Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice, who DID feel more like a caricature.
No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself on, this is an engrossing movie with the potential to appeal to many different types of people, and I definitely recommend it."
Sub-par at best
Lee L. | Washington DC | 02/05/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"One thing that immediately struck me when W came out was the odd timing. Why on earth would a filmmaker choose to put out a movie on the Bush presidency so close to its end when the end result will be a movie that lacks closure and feels unfinished? Had the movie been spectacular, this could have been forgiven, but in many ways W. is a truly forgettable movie. I thinks it's easy enough to leave politics out of whether or not you like this movie. I suppose if you don't like Bush, chances are you'll like W., but that's not really the point. I know people who despise Richard Nixon, but loved Frost/Nixon.
The movie follows two separate timelines and jumps back and forth between the two. The first begins with college era Bush, the other begins right after 9/11. There's no real point to splitting the movie up in such a way, expect that had the story been told from start to finish, the movie might had been even worse. There are other continuity issues that cause serious problems as well. The most glaring issue is that many of the infamous "Bushisms" make appearances in the movie, but never in the context of when Bush actually said them. Someone made the decision to cram in as many of them as possible, whether or not it made sense to do so.
The movie's most serious issue though is that it can't decide whether or not it wants to be a parody/caricature, or a serious movie....a comedy, or a drama. Bush's character jumps back and forth between the two throughout the movie. Dick Cheney and Condi Rice seem like they're straight out of an SNL skit, while Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld are played in a serious way. This is incredibly distracting and I think it speaks to the fundamental problem with this movie and that's the fact that the 'story' Oliver Stone wanted to tell doesn't make for a good movie. It's just not that interesting. Maybe Stone thought that because aspects of Bush are comedic for lack of a better term, they would make for a good movie, but that's just not the case. If you've paid more than just passing attention to the news during Bush's presidency, you won't learn anything new. If you haven't been paying attention...first of all what's wrong with you? Second, this would be a horrible place to start if you want to learn about the last 8 years."
"Who do you think you are? A Kennedy?"
Jason A. Miller | New York, New York USA | 10/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here's an odd little movie. It's a kitchen sink drama about a sitting President of the United States. Yes, it's got stock footage of the Iraq war, and an all-star casting playing members of the Cabinet, and it's got a greatest-hits collection of everyone's favorite George W. Bush misquotes. But it's also a sad, downbeat little drama about a man-child who failed at everything he ever did, and then became President just to prove a point to his father -- and failed at that, too.
Oliver Stone's movie has been praised so far for not being overtly political, and for being somewhat sympathetic to its subject. Still, the director doesn't pull punches on showing "W"'s hard-drinking past, and he lists all of the man's life failures prior to becoming owner of the Texas Rangers. There are a few trademark manipulative Stone moments -- for example, a pan over the infamous "Mission Accomplished" poster quickly jump-cuts to a montage of Iraq insurgent bombshells and wounded veterans. We also get the moment where the Prseident nearly chokes on a pretzel while watching college football on TV. And, even though Bush did win the 2004 election, the movie stops short of that in order to end on a surprisingly downbeat note. This movie is sympathetic to Bush, but it's also quite critical. There's a fleeting image of John McCain, too, lest we forget the choice we have to make in a couple of weeks.
The cast is almost uniformly superb. Josh Brolin, playing Bush both in his hard-living 20s and his Presidential late 50s, carries off the role so effortlessly that it's easy to overlook how hard he had to work to make this movie work. And it does work, thanks to Brolin.
The aces of the supporting cast include James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush -- giving the man a true gravitas that pop culture denied him 15 years ago, when he was being parodied by Dana Carvey and "The Simpsons". Jeffrey Wright is heroic as Colin Powell. Finally, Richard Dreyfuss's interpretation of Dick Cheney merits serious Oscar consideration. No over-the-top trademark Dreyfuss moments here. He is superb lurking in the shadows and lording over a map of oil wells in the Middle East.
I only had two disappoinments walking out of the theater. One was the limited scope of the movie. There's no mention of what history will really recall about the Bush presidency: the questions surrounding the 2000 and 2004 elections; the moment of triumph at Yankee Stadium shortly following 9/11; the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Of course, by including all that Stone would have been wide open to charges of political bias, and then this wouldn't have been a family film about a son vainly struggling to impress his father.
The other disappointment was Thandie Newton. With a vicious sneer on her face and a strange choice of enunciation, her Condi Rice is more a caricature than a portrayal. Had the movie been more overtly political or had the other supporting actors also mocked their characters, I might not have noticed. But here, Thandie was as overshadowed by the rest of the cast as has George W. Bush been overhshadowed by his father."
A weird journey..
Y. Muthafar | 02/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't know after watching this movie if Oliver Stone is with or against George W. Bush, it's really a fantastic movie that begins at 2003 when W. was considering going into IRAQ and it progresses at a well balanced pace as it mainly consists of these flashbacks into W.'s life.
The entire cast is superb and if you liked Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men then you're going to love him in this, for a few minutes I actually thought I was looking at W.