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W. (2008)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
Genres:
Biopic (Feature), Drama, Political Drama
Director:
Oliver Stone Oliver Stone
Starring:
Josh Brolin Josh Brolin
Colin Hanks Colin Hanks
Toby Jones Toby Jones
Dennis Boutsikaris Dennis Boutsikaris
Jeffrey Wright Jeffrey Wright

6.3 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 21, 2008
There are few directors out there as reckless with their careers as Oliver Stone. This is the man who has supplemented his talent as a filmmaker with countless controversies, thus turning him into more of a 'showman' than a 'director'. His achievements include the Academy Award winning war drama "Platoon", the dark and ruthless "Wall Street", the controversial "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers" and the Jim Morrison biopic, "The Doors" - to name a few. However, his previous four feature films have been nothing short of disasters - "U-Turn", "Any Given Sunday", "Alexander" and "World Trade Center". It seems that Oliver Stone has lost his way as a filmmaker. Maybe it's that he has stopped taking risks with his filmmaking. His previous couple of films were safe and offered very little in the form of consistent and coherent narrative storytelling. It's almost as if he just ran out of steam. "W." marks his most ambitious film of recent memory, primarily because Stone prepped, shot and edited the film in 2008 to have it ready before the election. He basically did a 'rush-job' on the picture to get it out there for audience and potential voters. Michael Moore employed the same strategy in 2004 with "Fahrenheit 9/11", and we see what that did for the race. But, the rushing of completion aside, "W." is definitely an Oliver Stone film. And, while it's not even close to perfect, it did turn out to be better than I had imagined. I was expecting the same Oliver Stone I'd been given the past few years. This felt more like the Stone of old.

As you already know, "W." is a biopic of current president George W. Bush (Josh Brolin). The film chronicles his life from his early-20's through the present, introducing us to all the characters in the man's life, most of which we already know. We see how his tumultuous relationship with his father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell) shaped his determination and stubbornness. We see how his relationship with his wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks) because a comforting presence in his life. We also see how the men in his cabinet basically shaped the way his Presidency would be remembered, from the gung-ho Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), to the more thoughtful Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and George Tenant (Bruce McGill). We see the people who sit in the dark and pull the strings, like Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and Condaleeza Rice (Thandie Newton). All of these individuals have shaped George W. Bush and they do so in the film. The narrative style of the film resembles "Nixon" in that Stone mixes present day encounters with flashbacks showing Bush coming into his own, going from a jobless alcoholic and disgrace to his family to a politically minded businessman with all the charm and charisma it takes to win an election, as we now fully understand. The film stays away from hot topics like 9/11 and the Florida re-count, and there are large gaps of the Presidency unaccounted for, but we do get to see a lot of what caused Bush to take us into Iraq, and we find a little bit about how his childhood and his run ins with trouble shaped the man he is today, for better or for worse.

What worried me most about this film was Stone's approach. I didn't want to sit through two and a half hours of Bush-isms. If I want that, I can turn on just about any news channel. I didn't want scene after scene of Bush saying idiotic things. I understand that the man slips up, but he's not an idiot. "W." manages to show that, though he does let his tongue get the better of him, Bush is still an intelligent man and a far craftier politician than anyone gives him credit for. We see early on, at a fraternity initiation, just how clever and quick-witted Bush really is. True, he did have far more experienced men behind him calling the shots, but Bush's ego gets the better of him from time to time in the film, calling down those who might want to exert their authority on him. His most interesting relationships are with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the two men who shaped the first term more than any others. Bush warns Cheney about seeming to 'commanding' in meetings and he reminds Rove numerous times that 'he' is the President and has the final say. "W." is not what I would call an 'even handed' approach to Bush, but it doesn't spend two and a half hours bashing the man. It tries to look at things from his perspective and it tries to evoke some sympathy, even if just a little. In the end, George W. Bush comes across as sad. He comes off as a man who is constantly trying to step out of the shadow cast by his father; a man who always second guesses himself and lets others take the lead; a man who is terrified of failure, period.

In terms of performances, they are universally fantastic. Josh Brolin could easily find himself an Academy Award nomination as George W. Bush. One part spot-on imitation and one part total embodiment, his performance here is phenomenal. He finds the right balance between 'good old boy' and 'tyrant' and he plays it to the hilt. Also exceptional in their roles are Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, the real villain of the film, and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, the moral fiber of most of the meetings with the Cabinet. Scott Glenn revives his career with a great turn as Rumsfeld, and Toby Jones turns in another fantastic performance as Rove. Stacy Keach even has an interesting turn as a pastor and friend of George. If I was disappointed with anyone, it was Elizabeth Banks. Banks doesn't really bring anything to the role and she never ages throughout the film. George is seen getting older and older and she still looks in her early-20's. But, I saved the best for last and the best is James Cromwell as Bush Sr. I would almost guarantee a Best Supporting Actor nod for his turn here, which is just astonishing. Cromwell embodies the man and brings so much depth and so much complexity to a role that could have been taken as mere imitation.

So my final verdict is this - "W." is pretty damned good. It's nowhere close to the level of Stone's earlier Presidential work, "JFK" and "Nixon", but the film stands on its own. I wish Stone had maybe taken a little more time to develop the project and I wish that he had spent a little more attention to those periods of the Presidency that he left out, but for such a quick production, he did a fine job. Imagine what he could have done with another year. The one thing I didn't want was a film that painted the man like a moron for two and a half hours. I hate the man more than anyone else on the planet, but I've seen the Bush-isms thing one time too many. I found myself not feeling sympathy for the man, personally, but understanding how others could. It at least sheds a little more light on his motives and reasons for doing what he did. "W." is being hailed by some and beaten up by others and I found myself in the middle, leaning more towards 'hailing'. It's not a perfect film. It's not an even handed film, per se. But it's an entertaining film. And it's leaps and bounds better than the last couple of Oliver Stone films. He's not officially back, but well on his way.

8/10.
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Ginose #1: Ginose - added 12/08/2008, 10:55 AM
Though I was suprised with the direction he took with this one, it didn't change the fact that this movie only made me re-realize something that I hadn't had to admit in quite some time:
Oliver Stone (still) sucks.

3.9/10
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