Oliver Stone’s new film, “W.” is a semi-satiric biography of the 43rd president of the United States. Releasing this film about George W. Bush less than a month before Election Day is undoubtedly good timing for box office revenues. Yet this film seems to have come out either too early, or too late.
The fact that W. is now a lame duck makes audiences wonder why it didn’t appear earlier in the Bush Administration. Then again, most presidential biographies (including Stone’s previous works “JFK” and “Nixon”) come out long after they have left office, giving history enough time to mull over events.
The movie features continuous flashbacks that include both George W. Bush’s debaucherous life prior to reaching office as well as the numerous meetings with his closest advisers before launching the Iraq War. Josh Brolin plays George W., a man with . issues. The first scene of him from his young adult years is during a Delta Kappa recruitment at Yale where Bush and his fellow “Kapsters” are drowning themselves in booze. Bush remains an alcoholic through most of his life until a few years before running for president, during which time he claims to be sober.
Besides his alcoholism, W. is shown dropping out of countless jobs, getting thrown in prison and knocking up women he has no real intention of marrying. For every poor decision he makes, he has his stern father, George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell), to bail him out of trouble. Not only that, but the elder Bush has the power to pull strings and get his son into prestigious universities, such as the Harvard Business School. And of course W. has “poppy’s” help in campaigning for Governor of Texas and President of the United States.
The relationship between George W. Bush and his “poppy” is one of the most prominent themes of the film. George H. W. Bush never gives W. his full support, partially because his faith lies mainly in his other son, Jeb, and partially because W. is undeserving of his encouragement. This leads W. to develop an inferiority complex despite his outward cockiness. He constantly stays awake at night debating what he can do to win his father’s affection.
As the film switches to Bush’s time in office leading up to the Iraq War, the mood doesn’t change much. He is still the same man he was before, but now with a suit and politicians to back him up.
There’s Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Bush’s main political consultant and the man behind his image. Thandie Newton’s role as Condoleezza Rice is dead on character in an almost cruel way. Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) is the only one questioning “Why Iraq? Why now?”
Powell, however, gives in to supporting the war after the malicious Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) gives his spiel about oil. Cheney lectures about how the U.S. has the unique opportunity to run the oil companies in Iraq. Powell asks what our exit strategy will be, to which Cheney replies, “We don’t have an exit strategy. We stay.” This meeting scene with Cheney as the dictator is unmistakably reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove.
Through the events Stone chooses to document, and the methods used to portray these events, it is unclear what he is trying to achieve. In some ways the audience feels sorry for Bush, in large due to his unstable relationship with his father. Other times it’s difficult to get past his unwarranted smugness and consider taking him seriously. By the end of the film the viewers are simply confused, not about Bush’s life, but about what was the point of the film.
Sure there are some funny parts, like the time Bush choked on a pretzel. And of course Stone includes several of Bush’s remarkably outrageous quotes we are all too familiar with. But aside from these cheap laughs, the film lacks depth — comic or otherwise.
This movie just wasn’t very good, and for an Oliver Stone film, it was plain disappointing. This is a man who made the films “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July.” Even when not compared to his previous work, “W.” falls short.
Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at email@example.com.