Review: ‘W.’

I’m not a big Oliver Stone fan; I don’t mean that I don’t like his films, it’s just that I haven’t seen any.  Barring half of 1991’s JFK (I was bored and confused.  But I was only 14 at the time), my exposure for Stone’s liberal agendas and conspiracy theories has been minimal at best.  Sure, I know where he leans, politically.  But his films?  Haven’t a clue.

I was eager to see W. because I am not a fan of George W. Bush and have, admittedly, been caught up in the election hoopla.  (I myself lean to the left in a state so red it glows at night.)  I’m an Obamaniac, to be sure, and what better way to sit in the choir seats and be preached to than a scathing expose on the complete incompetence of our 43rd President?

There were two big surprises about W.: 1) It’s kinda’ dull; and 2) If the film is anything, it’s a sympathetic (yet incomplete) portrait of man who, according to the film, had to become the most powerful man in the world to break out from the shadow of his father’s political legacy.

What’s it about? Uh, George W. Bush.

The film goes back in forth in time from the early 2000’s when Bush (Josh Brolin in an Oscar-worthy performance) and his team–including Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Karl Rove (Toby Jones) George Tenet (Bruce McGill), Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss)–as they contemplate, argue and ultimately decide to have the US invade Iraq; to various defining moments in W.’s life in the late 60’s (drinking!), 70’s (drinking!) 80’s (drinking…and then getting sober…and helping Dad (James Cromwell) with his Presidential campaign) and 90’s (running for Governor of Texas!).

What’s good about it? Brolin’s performance is spot-on, and the scenes of Bush & Co. debating the feasibility of a war with Iraq (with Powell being the wet blanket) are fairly engaging.  I also admire Stone’s willingness to portray W. as a tortured soul (his rocky relationship with George Bush Sr. is the sole dramatic force throughout the film).

What’s bad about it? For starters, I must admit I’ve never been a fan of biopics.  I like my films to have a first, second and third act; biopics don’t work that way.  Mostly, they’re Stuff Happening.  And while some people’s lives are larger than others, there’s no real narrative thread to drive the story.  W. is no exception.  The film, clocking in at around two hours, is about a half-hour too long.  We know the basic storyline, so why do Stone and writer Stanley Weiser drag it out for so long?

The film also shows W. drinking.  All.  The.  Time.  Booze is everywhere.  He’s a boozehound.  I get it.  There are also a plethora of scenes where people eat that usually feature W. talking with food in his mouth.

Perfect for: Bush fans.  All eight of them who are left.

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