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Review: W. (2008)

W. (2008)

Directed by: Oliver Stone 

Premise: A biopic of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin). The film flips back and forth between Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, his youth, and his early political career.

What Works: Despite the fact that the film’s subject is still in office at the time of the film’s release, W. is actually very effective because it is primarily about the man, not his presidency. Therefore, the film is not an exploration of the Bush administration and its policies but rather is an attempt to peel apart who George W. Bush actually is. And that is where W. shines. Josh Brolin does a terrific job as the forty-third president and makes a person who we’ve been inundated with for the past eight years seem fresh and new. The film’s treatment of Bush is interesting in relation to other takes in dramatizations, parodies, and op-ed documentaries. He is not the reluctant savior of DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, the cartoon caricature of That’s My Bush, or the scheming ideologue of Fahrenheit 9/11. The film portrays him much more sympathetically, as a man who was determined to prove himself to his father, George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell) and who earnestly believed he was doing the right thing. The film’s explanation for the invasion of Iraq is not the fiscally motivated version presented by Michael Moore and others but rather an ideological vision of a new American empire. And although W. is more sympathetic to Bush, it does not let him off the hook either. In fact, the film’s portrayal of Bush is less like Oliver Stone’s take on Richard Nixon in his 1995 film, which delved deeply into Nixon’s personal demons, and much more like Christian Bale’s role as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho; Josh Brolin’s Bush has no consciousness of what he has done and does not have the faculties to grasp the summation of his life. That makes it impossible for the film to go deeply into a character’s psyche because there’s nothing there, but that revelation in itself is an interesting take on Bush and Brolin’s almost lucid performance is fascinating to watch.  

What Doesn’t: W. compresses a lot of information into just over two hours and this is probably a film that could have been longer. On the other hand, some of the moments that the film chooses to dramatize seem a little arbitrary such as Bush’s near death choking on a pretzel. A few of these scenes stand out because they don’t add up to anything. Those expecting the hysteric style of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers or his conspiracy theorizing in JFK will be let down here. Stone tones down his style in W. and the picture runs rather conventionally when it should be revolutionary. In fact, at least one scene is almost completely ripped off of Fahrenheit 9/11, as Bush gives his now infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech followed by a hard cut to soldiers in escalating combat.

Bottom Line: W. is a fascinating look at this man and Brolin’s performance is really good. Despite its flaws this film may be ranked among Stone’s better work, certainly one of the best film’s he has produced in this decade.

Episode: #212 (November 2, 2008)