Movie Review for W. (2008)

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Review #707 of 365
Movie Review of W. (2008) [PG-13] 131 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: Theatres Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
When Seen: 19 October 2008 @ 1:20 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits: there is nothing
Unsung Member of the Crew: Draper – Erensto Felix

Soundtrack: Download now from Paul Cantelon - W. (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Oliver Stone (World Trade CenterWorld Trade Center)
Screenplay by: Stanley Weiser (Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Elizabeth Banks (Meet Dave) • Dennis Boutsikaris ("Six Degrees") • Josh Brolin (American Gangster) • Ellen Burstyn (30 Days) • James Cromwell (Spider-Man 3) • Richard Dreyfuss (Poseidon) • Scott Glenn (Nights in Rodanthe) • Ioan Gruffudd (F4: Rise of Silver Surfer) • Toby Jones (City of Ember) • Bruce McGill (Vantage Point) • Thandie Newton (How to Lose Friends & Alienate People) • Jason Ritter ("The Class") • Jeffrey Wright (The Invasion) • Noah Wyle ("E.R.")

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Many were probably prepared to love or hate Infamous director Oliver Stone's new George W. Bush biopic, W. but for all the wrong reasons. Those on the left were, perhaps, eager to see the disassembly of the president and leave the theatre feeling satisfied over a scathing indictment. Those on the right were probably expecting a film that would fuel the fires of the left leaving them all the angrier at their ideological opponents. But, as irony would have it, W. is simply not that simple.

…the film suffers from it's rush to press.
Neither the film nor the man depicted on screen. Not to digress too much, but it could be also that Josh Brolin's sympathetic portrayal of the youthful W. makes him a lot more likeable than those who now blame him for forever changing the geopolitical landscape in a way that can never be reclaimed in our favor would have thought possible.

Let's begin then by giving a bit of substance to the structure of the film. And it is worth noting now that the film, much like the real George Bush's story, really doesn't have an ending as of yet, though the film ends even earlier than that choosing to explore only his life up until the end of his first term. The film's structure alternates scenes of his youth with scenes of his run for the presidency and then his first four years in office focusing nearly entirely on segments that evolved into the formation of Bush Doctrine and the war with Iraq. [Note: Some future historians may debate whether this was a war with Iraq and not simply the conquering of Iraq in much the same way as the British Empire conquered many, many less civilized nations in its hey day, and certainly the events depicted (whether historically 100% accurate or not) in the film could lead one to draw this conclusion.] This flipping back and forth chronologically definitely allows for Oliver Stone to help assert by inference connections between the challenges of W.'s youth and his actions as President.

The film actually begins with GWB (Josh Brolin) standing on the pitcher's mound and imagining himself as President. Then it fast forwards to him in the Oval Office with his advisors leading the discussion—or so he thinks—that creates the notion of the Axis of Evil. Travel back to 1966 when GWB was a frat boy at Yale during the Delta Kappa pledge week. He gets arrested for hanging on the goal posts after a defeat of Princeton. His father bails him out, of course. He has a terrible time keeping a job during summers and eventually pops the question to a girl named Suzy. 1971 and GWB arrives at his father's office to revisit his failed life so far. Poppy (James Cromwell) says to him "Who do you think you are, a Kennedy. You're a Bush now act like one." Then Poppy vows to clean up his mess and the rumors that Suzy claims to be pregnant. He's very disappointed with his son. The story flips back and forth as it moves through history giving more and more insight into the events that shaped W. in particular bouts with alcoholism, parental disappointment, coming clean, finding Jesus and Laura (Elizabeth Banks). Once president, the scenes show a man who knows he's president but doesn't seem to be that aware of how easily he is to manipulate as long as one knows how to properly feed his ego. The one who comes across as the being the most devious and manipulative is Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss)—more on that performance a bit later. Eventually, though things come full circle as W. gives a press conference to announce that he plans to transfer the governance of Iraq to the Iraqi people on 20 June 2004. At that conference his is woefully unable to answer the question as to what were his biggest mistakes. He gets flustered and walks away from the podium. This serves as the ending to the film, but we all know it's not the end of the story.

Oliver Stone's direction of the screenplay by Stanley Weiser represents months of research into the life and history of George W. Bush. The film ultimately makes the man seem far more real and human than anything those of us who have watched his two terms in office spiral woefully out of control might have guessed. This introspective look at a young man, never deemed good enough by his parents who ultimately aspired to become president seemingly more to prove that he could than because it was something he ever actually desired, brings new perspective and insight. And, moreover, sadly, once in office, he seems to succumb, either out of shear naïveté or raw brainpower, to the will of the clever, power-hungry people he surrounds himself with as his chief advisors—most of whom, the film suggests, have utilized his presidency toward fulfilling their own personal agendas. Chief among these are the little genius Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and, of course, Dick Cheney. Taking the roles of the fall guys for term 1 are Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and George Tenet (Bruce McGill).

It's difficult to conceive a better casting job—though in nearly every case the actors endow their living representatives with more emotion than we've seen in interviews and read about in countless news stories. Each and every one of the principle actors does an outstanding job fulfilling the expectations of these lofty roles. Standouts were: the enigmatic Thandie Newton who seems to have been inspired by a goofy, love-smitten teenager as she brings to life Condoleezza Rice; Toby Jones whose sheepish smile and gentle nature gives Karl Rove that creepy, almost lustful look of amusement over the decline of the traditional US government;

So realistic is Brolin's performance, that you'll instantly forget you're not watching the real George W. Bush.
Jeffrey Wright whose youth probably detracts somewhat from his believability as General Colin Powell but he more than compensates by giving him the thoughtful compassion that separated him from the rest of the W-loyalists; Richard Dreyfus plays his most powerful role in decades and gives pure insight in the disappearing Vice President Dick Cheney—a sequel on just his life with Dreyfus in the role could be more golden than this film; and, finally, there's Josh Brolin who recently made headlines bemoaning those who feel he's risen on the shoulders of famous parents rather than his own talent going to untold lengths to get down every nuance of George W. Bush's dialect, cadence, vernacular, befuddled smile, introspective glare, and presidential side-step. If he doesn't get some bling-bling notice for this role, people are asleep at the wheel. So realistic is Brolin's performance, that you'll instantly forget you're not watching the real George W. Bush.

In the end, W. the film suffers from it's rush to press. By not waiting until the GWB presidency is officially over, and by not going into the second term, the film feels unfinished. It ends rather suddenly and at an unnatural point in the history. Certainly, it does bring out much in the way of helping USAers gain welcome insight into the man—how true to life the film is, however, might alter that. In many ways, GWB comes out a more likeable person. His motivations for his actions, presuming some semblance of accuracy, now have more historical context. Likewise, though, it's hard to watch the film and not feel like there is more than one tragedy in play. There's little left to doubt from the film's perspective that a cabal of people took power on 20 January 2001 and promptly proceeded to do precisely what they wanted with the United States of America as if it were a toy train set opened up on Christmas morning—their plaything to do with as they saw fit or had always dreamed.

Both those on the right and the left have much to learn from this film—a must see for everyone.
Only, it wasn't a toy train set, it was the fate of billions of people they held in their grip and the subsequent havoc they would wreak would cause ripple effects for decades to come at the expense of over 200 years of stalwart efforts to achieve a near utopian-like form of government, one that afforded more freedom AND more prosperity than any other previous government on earth. In just four, short years, this group was able to undermine and devolve everything guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and literally plunder the reputation of Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. It's terribly tragic because, on the surface, one would not have imagined this free-spirited and semi-idealistic young man to be capable of such a misguided fantasy that became his presidency. Both those on the right and the left have much to learn from this film—a must see for everyone.

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Other Projects Featuring W. (2008)
Cast Members
Elizabeth BanksDennis BoutsikarisJosh Brolin
Ellen BurstynJames CromwellRichard Dreyfuss
Scott GlennIoan GruffuddToby Jones
Bruce McGillNoah WyleJason Ritter
Oliver Stone
Stanley Weiser

Review-lite W. (2008) [max of 150 words]
A must-see film for those on the right and the left, both of whom will learn important things from this Oliver Stone-directed bio pic of George W. Bush. Josh Brolin goes to untold lengths getting down every nuance of George W. Bush's dialect, cadence, vernacular, befuddled smile, introspective glare, and presidential side-step. If he doesn't get some bling-bling notice for this role, people are asleep at the wheel. So realistic is his performance, that you'll instantly forget you're not watching the real GWB. An extraordinary cast with countless all-star performances especially Thandie Newton, Toby Jones, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, and Richard Dreyfus as Dick Cheney, the film only disappoints in that it fails to wait until the end of the Bush presidency when, at last, it could have served to provide much needed closure.

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1 comment:

movie fan said...

Brolin evidently tried to "make a statement" with the movies he makes... such as in No Country for Old Men; that makes him pretty well suited for making 'W.'