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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 Lybarger

"And you thought Obama and Palin were underprepared."
3 stars

Oliver Stone’s take on current president George W. Bush isn’t as inflammatory as one might imagine from the filmmaker behind “Platoon” and “JFK.” At times, it’s a sign that maybe he’s gotten past his sophomoric urge to shock viewers and his deep infatuation with conspiracy theories.

Unlike “Nixon” and “JFK,” “W.” doesn’t feature any menacing gay reactionaries trying to topple order. But Stone’s occasionally gentler touch reveals that he still had more thinking to do in order to say something new or interesting about the man who will soon be leaving the White House.

Admittedly, Bush’s backstory has strong cinematic potential, regardless of what you think of him or his presidency. By all accounts, the young George W. Bush was a very different man from the one who eventually sat in the Oval Office. Considering his difficulties, it’s a miracle he didn’t face an early grave instead of the Bully Pulpit.

Thanks to a fondness for drink, young “W” (Josh Brolin) never seems to measure up to his aristocratic overachiever of a father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell). Despite the love and support of his caring wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), the younger Bush can’t seem to do anything with his life except empty booze bottles.

Stone comes closest to making a real movie when he and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (“Wall Street”) attempt to portray how the two Georges might have interacted and how that eventually influenced how the younger one lived and governed.

Cromwell thankfully ignores Bush 41’s distinctively nasal mannerisms and delivers the film’s most nuanced and human performance. Despite the older man’s disinclination to explicitly say what he’s thinking, Cromwell’s face indicates his combination of love and exasperation at his son’s behavior.

If the rest of the film had followed Cromwell’s approach, “W.” might have been a more successful palace drama. Instead, the rest of the cast is occasionally hamstrung by Stone’s ham-fisted attempt to shoehorn the actors into their roles.

Just as Paul Sorvino looked awkward trying to ape Henry Kissinger in “Nixon,” it’s distracting to watch familiar performers like Scott Glenn and Bruce McGill made up to look like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. Thandie Newton, who plays Condoleeza Rice, is particularly strained. She looks as if she’s auditioning for a “Saturday Night Live” White House sketch. You can tell the stunt casting is failing if you find yourself saying, “Hey! That’s Colin Hanks or Jim Broadbent!” instead of following the story.

Brolin struggles to grasp the title character, and Stone and Weiser don’t do him any favors. At times, George W. Bush is the buffoon his detractors always accuse him of being and at other times he asks tough and intelligent questions of his advisors like Karl Rove (Toby Jones, “Infamous”) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss). Because Stone and Weiser have trouble developing Bush’s vices and virtues, it becomes harder to Brolin, much less the audience, to get a grip on the character.

At barely over two hours, “W.” is mercifully short for a Stone film. Nonetheless, every malapropism the president has ever uttered somehow manages to make it into the film (Yes, “Is our children learning?” made it in). If you’ve ever read a newspaper, followed the news, thumbed through one of Bob Woodward’s recent books or simply not lived in a cave for eight years, you already know much of the dialogue that’s coming.

By giving us “W.’s Greatest Hits,” Stone and Weiser end up sacrificing what could have made the film worth the price of admission. It’s simply more amusing to go on YouTube and watch Bush trip over his tongue for real than it is to hear an actor recite the gaff.

What would have been more interesting would be seeing what happens when reporters are nowhere in sight. In one lunch scene, Dreyfuss’ Cheney explains to Bush why Iraq should be their next target, he sounds just wise enough to make the decision to invade seem inevitable. Dreyfuss’ gleeful, but on-target performance makes Bush’s ultimate decision make sense. For a brief moment, the film actually gets into Bush’s head.

There are sequences, like the one where Bush embraces Christianity that could have been expanded. Doing so would have made the film seem more involving and less cartoonish.

Stone and Weiser can’t decide if they want to go for a potshot or a genuinely thoughtful take on the man who has polarized America and inspired standup comics everywhere. As a result, “W.” never quite reaches its presidential potential.

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originally posted: 10/17/08 19:00:00
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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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