The Screening Room Blog
Friday, October 24, 2008
Fact and fiction meet in "W"
(LONDON, England) -- Could it be more timely? As America prepares to go to the polls, “W,” Oliver Stone’s biopic of the still incumbent president, George “Dubya” Bush tells the story as that of a heavy-drinking frat boy who found God and made it into the White House -- twice.

Stone’s treatment of a man he presents as the world’s most influential idiot is, in fact, surprisingly gentle. Dubya’s deep unpopularity and catalogue of political blunders would have been the perfect license for a damning portrayal.

Instead, while not exactly giving him the kid glove treatment, Stone’s film takes a sometimes mocking (check out the multitudinous close ups of Bush’s patriotic belt buckles with Texas flag design -- and later the Presidential seal) sometimes sympathetic look at Dubya -- and it is an effective psychological portrait of the man who somehow became president.

Stone is helped along by Josh Brolin as the lead of an impressive cast, who, while ‘getting’ Dubya’s mannerisms and ticks, doesn’t ham it up with a straight impersonation. The film portrays Dubya as the quintessential moneyed jock with nothing much in his head -- “Don’t think about it too much, Pappy. It’ll screw you all up,” he counsels Bush Sr. on the subject of whether or not to invade Iraq first time round.

The film opens with Dubya and his advisers (Condi Rice played by Thandie Newton, accompanied by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and co.) conjuring up the phrase "axis of evil" and two things very quickly become clear. First of all, Dubya may think he’s in charge but, according to Stone, it’s his advisers who are making the real decisions -- “I’m the President. I’m the decider,” he reiterates to Rumsfeld a few times during the film. Stone's depiction of Dubya's utterly flip attitude to matters of state implies it must have taken more than a twitch of the strings of influence to get him where he is today.

Stone presents Dubya as a charismatic Texan cowboy who possess the confidence and quick wit of a man born to be a "master of the universe" -- admittedly more so around the poker table than in White House press conferences. But critically, he comes across as very human. The kind of "average Joe" that the average Joe would like to sit down with and slug a beer.

While there are a fair number of Bushisms in evidence – “You fool me once, shame on you. You fool me twice and … you can’t fool me again” -- we also see a man strangled by the constrictions of a dynasty that has been built up over a few hundred years, and who has been dealt with very harshly by Bush Sr. “What do you think you are? A Kennedy? You’re a Bush,” he barks when Dubya is arrested after some post-ballgame pranks at Yale.

Visually, the film fails to impress and it’s obvious that it was made very quickly -- Stone says he wanted to get it out before the U.S. election. It also ends very ambiguously, but then the story of Dubya’s presidency and its significance for the current race is still unfolding.

Josh Brolin makes a very convincing George W. Bush. Who would you cast to play Barack Obama, John McCain or, even Sarah Palin?

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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