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Overall Rating

Awesome: 1.92%
Worth A Look44.23%
Average: 34.62%
Pretty Bad: 15.38%
Total Crap: 3.85%

6 reviews, 16 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Why Do We Fall? Because We Can’t Fall Again."
4 stars

Calling George W. Bush one of the most polarizing figures of the 21st century is probably a bit more of a spin than some on his side would care to admit. The like/hate factor is undeniable, but the divide between them is far greater to truly call him an equal opportunity polarizer. With the country (and most of the world) on his side after 9/11, a polling statistic that would have accompanied any President in that time of crisis, the numbers have steadily shifted against him year after every deadly year we’ve spent fighting that battle. Oliver Stone is no stranger in going to war, both as a Vietnam veteran and as a filmmaker that has criticized that war and the decision makers that kept it going longer than it have ever should. As a bit of a polarizer himself, Stone appears to be just the right man to tell Dubya’s tale in dramatized fiction. Like the jokes after 9/11 though labeled as “too soon”, W. (unlike Stone’s Nixon) has the feel of a story unfinished. Albeit very good and ambitious in its fairness to the man at times, centered by an award-worthy performance by Josh Brolin, there’s an irony that Stone’s rush to judgement prevented him from creating a film with a more lasting legacy.

W. takes us back to 1966 where George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) was a Yale fratboy, the “working brain” who knew the names of all of his fellow pledges only to not know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites later on in life. Constantly in one scrape after another from arrests to untimely pregnancies, there was Poppy George H.W. (James Cromwell) keeping the family name in line by brushing Dubya’s indiscretions under the carpet. “I’ll take care of it” should have been Poppy’s campaign slogan. Hardly the go-getter in jobs provided to him, Dubya tries politics in the ‘70s only to be “out-Texan’ed” and “out Christian’ed” by an opponent who had more dirt than Dubya had complete sentences in their debate.

Shifting between the past and his first term in office, Dubya must deal with the decisions of a post-9/11 world in meeting after meeting with his cabinet. Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Karl Rove (Toby Jones) are the bespectacled Machiavellis shadowed in the corners of the room influencing the President through easily defined statistics to him and tough talk to his other administrators. Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) wants to “drain the swamp” of the Middle East while the more calm Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) attempts to be the voice of rationality over the potential consequences of their proposals to capitalize on the “opportunity” that 9/11 presented them with. Dubya just wants to get Saddam and finish the job, as he advised his father for years, and send the message that America is not to be trifled with while proving to himself and his naysayers that he can accomplish something that daddy never did.

The crux of the screenplay by Stanley Weisner (who co-wrote Wall Street with Stone) sticks with the tug-o-war between father and son. Normally it’s the sins of one passed down as the burden to another, but with Dubya it was the privilege of a name forgiving his own sins until he finally found a father he could look up to. And pray to. Stone has never been one to pass up an easy metaphor or visualize it (as in the film’s final moment, so clear that even Dubya himself could understand it), but he does find a way to invoke his own holy trinity of religulous without flashy visions or clearly vocalizing it. The age-old legend of the father sending his own son to save us all manifests itself from H.W.-to-W., God-to-W. and onward to Superman whom Dubya refers to at one moment.

Son of Jor-El or H.W., Dubya as seen in the film believes somewhere that he’s been chosen to lead us to the promised land. Call it dementia or delusions of grandeur, Stone and Brolin do find ways to strip the man away from all his gaffes and limited intellect and portray him as a boy-king manipulated into a war for personal gain. While that meant profit for guys like Cheney, Dubya’s was one of his own self-worth after a lifetime of failure and the tragedies that followed were made even greater since he was too blinded to realize that while he convinced himself he was “the decider”, he was anything but. The film’s best scene is an extended one where the administration’s top dogs map out the plan for going into Iraq and continuing to make plans for the ultimate target of Iran where U.S. presence in the world is at a minimum. It’s a reminder of the chilling moment in Stone’s JFK where Donald Sutherland’s X tells Jim Garrison of the document that essentially escalated the Vietnam War, but beyond chilling as we become witness to the one-manned debate against the strategy by Colin Powell, delivered mesmerizingly in monologue by Jeffrey Wright. The two-thirds of anti-Bush sentiment in this country will want to reach into the screen and lynch nearly everyone in this room, but will feel as absolutely powerless as Dubya himself to prevent the turning wheels that seemed inevitable. As a follow-up late in the film, another aggravating display is revealed as Dubya chastises his advisers and demands that responsibility be taken for their mistakes. The way they all sit there like little children accused by their daddy of breaking a lamp may be the most telling image of this administration’s legacy.

Because there is so much to tell, Stone has made the wise choice of not tackling elements already handled by other filmmakers. No images of 9/11 or reliving that day. It doesn’t just become a Daily Show package of incompetent speechifying. But within its packed two hours, it does have the feel of a greatest hits collection cobbled together for a quick HBO film. (Although that’s not giving the cable network its just do for political dramatization as anyone who saw the recent Recount knows.) Before getting to the extensive background of Dubya’s history, the film opens on the discussion over the proposed labeling of the “Axis of Evil.” It’s a good scene (and a funny one) that has both an authenticity and a goofy stigma about it that may trigger memories of Andrew Bergman’s underrated Dick where Nixon’s cabinet was played for laughs with both dramatic and comedic actors filling their shoes. Guys like Wright, Jones and Dreyfuss (who has already played a Cheney-type in Rob Reiner’s The American President and John Sayles’ Silver City) strike just the right tone for their real-life counterparts, but Thandie Newton so overplays Condoleeza Rice that her mannerisms completely outweigh her purpose in the grand scheme making it clear that her dead-on impersonation belongs in another movie.

The one who doesn’t though, and the one who matters, is Josh Brolin whose portrayal of our 43rd President couldn’t be better. Avoiding doing a straight impression (that might have impressed his stepmother), like Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon, Brolin reminds us that Dubya is still a man first and a caricature second. A deeply flawed, unqualified, looking for answers in all the wrong places Texan for sure, but still a man. Brolin is a force in recreating Dubya before us with limited use of makeup and a full use of sincere cluelessness in the way he’s talked down to and overcompensating by trying to say the right thing and reaching for a star that doesn’t exist. Also impressive is Cromwell as H.W. who becomes an even more sympathetic figure (once you get past how often he used his status to bail out the black sheep) as someone who probably did the right thing in not “finishing the job” in Iraq and paid for it with his presidency and family’s legacy, likely forever. Cromwell’s simple gestures in the wake of his cease fire, losing the presidency and having to publicly support his son ensure that the actor’s legacy is firmly intact.

Surely this will not be the last film made about this administration, either as a direct biography or a fictionalized facsimile. There are too many tales out of school to tell and Stone’s attempt to go after most of them in one two-hour shot leaves too many rabbit holes unexplored. It does however fit in nicely to Stone’s trilogy of unjust wars created by greed and power. It may not be in the same league as the masterpiece that is JFK or the Citizen Kane-like folly of Nixon, but as Stone wrote at the end of the former, what is past is prologue, and W. provides a generational introduction to lessons we still haven’t learned despite our claim to be the greatest country on Earth. W. could have easily been a farce akimbo to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, but is frightening along the same lines that the future may be now and we’ve had the foresight to prevent it. Oliver Stone has shown us the fall of Camelot and then the fall of Xanadu and it’s possible the Bush family’s pride could have been worthy of a similar one, but in the case of Dubya is just another cowboy falling off his horse.

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originally posted: 10/17/08 15:00:00
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User Comments

11/12/09 Jeff Wilder Good. Could've been better. 3 stars
9/20/09 MP Bartley Brolin is great but film is thinly sketched. Stone should have sat on it a few years... 3 stars
2/15/09 Anthony Feor One of my favorite films of 2008. Loved it. 5 stars
2/14/09 Tony Sanitized retelling of the rape of Lady Liberty and Madam Justice from the rapists' pov 2 stars
2/12/09 Jay A waste of time. I am as upset about Bush as anyone, but this film is flimsy and dumb. 1 stars
1/26/09 mr.mike Brolin's spot-on performance carries an OK film. 3.5 stars. 3 stars
1/15/09 FrankNFurter Oliver Stone is a pussy. This film is totally dumb & toothless, much like the president. 1 stars
11/11/08 Colleen H a sad commentary, especially his relationship with GHW 3 stars
10/27/08 Samantha Pruitt the acting was great, it made you kind of feel bad for him. Brolin was great! 4 stars
10/24/08 Simon Indecisive film, which despite admirable sympathetic intentions, leaves viewer dissatisfied 3 stars
10/23/08 g. amusing but not great 3 stars
10/22/08 Erik Great Review,watching this for Josh Brolin. 4 stars
10/19/08 Nick Somoski Nothing like I thought it would be - it was actually a great portrait of Bush's life! 4 stars
10/19/08 Dru Stone is a genius, and I actually felt a twinge or two of sympathy for W. 4 stars
10/17/08 tiffany pettey great acting in this movie 4 stars
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  17-Oct-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2009


  DVD: 10-Feb-2009

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