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falderal : a moving images blog
W. ; 2008  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Post by Neko

Director: Oliver Stone
Actors: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Thandie Newton
Country: U.S.A.

First up, my review is not as complete, detailed and poignant as those by Steph, so my formal apologies – sadly, I ain’t a film student. Despite that, I did take a trip to the cinema a few weeks ago and paid my dues to see W., which, as the title sort of suggests, is a George Bush biopic. W. chronicles the life of the eldest Bush son (Josh Brolin), the most unlikely successor to his father’s throne; his past is shown in a series of flashbacks to the ‘present’ of the film, set during his presidential reign, particularly the early years. Scenes of as far back as the mid 60′s are shown, with Pledge Week at Yale, meeting and courting his first love and subsequently asking his daddy to bail him out of said first love, Harvard, his wife-to-be, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), his stroll/race to the top of the political ladder and of course, what he did when he got there. Even Bush’s infamous ‘pretzel choking’ incident is given some exposure, amusement ensues.

I’d say W. is a film worth seeing for any American or otherwise who cursed the 2000-2008 Bush/Cheney era, the War on Terror that spilled into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who watched as everything collapsed into pieces. Despite that, it is also very much worth seeing for everyone who voted for and supported Bush, and to Oliver Stone’s credit (particularly for someone with such a political background) he didn’t direct this film to be a slam-fest for the liberals or a celebration for the conservatives. I wouldn’t even describe it as inherently political, despite the fact that the second scene is a cabinet meeting decision to use ‘axis of evil’ or ‘axis of terror’. The thing is, W. is less concerned with making a political statement and more concerned with the human side of Bush’s successes and his failures, touching on long-term factors in Bush life which occurred long before he even toyed with the idea of running for Presidency, but which influenced his actions nonetheless – the bond, or lack thereof, between him and his father being a prime example and important subtlety of this film.

There are some general criticisms of the film that I have heard, one being that most of the film is common knowledge for anyone who voted in the elections. To this, I have to point to the very obvious and, to me, deeply disappointing, fact that only around half of the U.S. population voted in both 2000 and 2004. Furthermore, this film didn’t set out to justify the decisions of the Bush era, or even explain them, thus in my opinion, however knowledgeable or not the audience may be on the political life of Bush is largely irrelevant. A cursory interest, I would say, is a necessary precursor to enjoying this film, as is some firm common sense and the ever-nagging reminder that it is, indeed, a work of speculative fiction as much as it is ‘fact’.

A baser criticism, which I happen to agree with, is that the acting wasn’t as fantastic, particularly Brolin, who in my opinion, couldn’t quite mask his disdain for the character he portrayed. Having said that, Thandie Newton does one hell of an uncanny Condoleeza Rice impression and James Cromwell was magnificently dignified as Bush Senior. I was most disappointed that Bill Clinton didn’t make an appearance…

I hesitate to use a ’5 star’ sort of system, as standard, for it can be so misleading. Instead, I’ll leave with this; W. did quite the number on my expectations, and though I wouldn’t put it in a hall of fame next to the ‘greats’ (even in comparison to Stone’s other films; JFK outshines them all!), I certainly enjoyed the spectacle. To be reminded that Bush is a human, and to think about this for a moment, is a highly conflicting epiphany regardless of any personal bias — whether you think he’s lovable but hapless and harmless, or the next bright and shining, Reagan-esque beacon of conservative hope, or simply and crudely, the malicious downfall of humanity.

One film that did spring to mind after I left the cinema was the 2006 faux-documentary, Death of a President, if only for an interesting contrast of Bush’s rather accidental rise as opposed to his inescapable legacy, and of the way such a sensitive subject matter can be explored – in your face, or out.

IMDb link: W.
Where to buy: Amazon.com

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