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Overall Rating
3.25

Awesome: 1.92%
Worth A Look44.23%
Just Average: 34.62%
Pretty Crappy: 15.38%
Sucks: 3.85%

6 reviews, 16 user ratings


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W.
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Man With The Child In His Eyes"
4 stars

Based on the coming attractions preview that has been on display for the last couple of months--a brilliant little two-minute collage of oddball imagery, dark humor and the shock of a group of very familiar faces impersonating another group of very familiar faces ingeniously underscored by David Byrne posing the musical question “Well, how did I get here?,” people walking into Oliver Stone’s “W,” his examination of the life and legacy of George W. Bush, may be expecting a wild satirical excoriation of the man and how he and his advisers presided over what is already being writing off as one of the most disastrous presidencies in the history of our country--a “Natural Born Dumbass,” if you will. However, perhaps that is exactly the kind of approach that many might have expected from him, this is not the film that Stone has given us this time around. Instead, he has presented us with a relatively straightforward narrative that largely eschews stylistic excesses and bizarre speculations in order to present a simple and, at times, strangely sympathetic look at a ne’er-do-well whose combination of personal magnetism, a powerful name and his innate sense of his own righteousness helped to make him the most powerful man in the world and whose personal demons and willingness to be swept up into the sinister intrigues of others left him sitting in the Oval Office when everything began crashing down wondering “Well, how did I get here?”

Instead of trying to encapsulate Bush’s entire personal and political life into a two-hour film (which would be impossible anyway seeing as how both are still ongoing even as it hits theaters), “W” is more of a mosaic in which key moments of his life in the years leading up to his presidency are interspersed with scenes dealing with the invasion of Iraq running the gamut from building the case on sketchy information, the giddy initial moments of triumph involving toppling statues and speeches aboard aircraft carriers to the gradual realization that what was hoped to be a quick, clean and profitable mission was turning out to be more longer, bloodier and more expensive than anyone in charge had expected thanks to bad planning and massive hubris. In those earlier scenes, beginning with his days as a hard-drinking frat boy in 1966, we watch Bush (Josh Brolin) as he goes from a screw-up who pisses away all the advantages granted him by his wealth, privilege and family name to his failed 1978 run for Congress (where his Democratic opponent ironically positions him as an elitist who is out of touch with the people of Texas) to the one two punch of his born-again experience in 1986 and his work on his father’s successful presidential campaign two years later that give him the inspiration to enter the family business himself (at least after the baseball commissioner job falls through). When the opportunity arises to run for the governorship of Texas in 1994, not even his own parents has much faith in his ability to pull it off--mother Barbara (Ellen Burstyn) thinks he is too hot-headed) and father George (James Cromwell) would prefer that he wait four years so that the family can concentrate of getting favored son Jeb elected governor of Texas. Nevertheless, with the support of loyal wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and political advisor Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Bush gets elected and this eventually lands him the presidency just six years later.

In the more contemporary plot strand, we watch as Bush’s advisors--vice-president Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris) and CIA head George Tenet (Bruce McGill) as they try to make the case for invading Iraq, a country that did not actually attack the U.S. on 9/11 but which is situated in an area of the world with vast oil deposits. Although there is some dissension in the ranks--Powell doesn’t think the invasion is a good idea and Tenet keeps insisting that much of the information being used to justify the invasions, such as Saddam Hussein’s alleged stores of weapons of mass destruction and the reports that he was trying to purchase yellowcake uranium in order to go nuclear, is too sketchy to be deemed credible enough to launch a war over--the louder, pro-invasion voices of the others prevail and after prodding British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd) to help give a show of international support, the war is on. Inevitably, the whole thing goes sour and in a scene that frankly could have come straight out of ‘Dr. Strangelove,” Bush tries to get to the bottom of the battle failures and whole WMD nonsense with his advisors and each one then speaks at length about how those problems don’t fall under the purview--by the end of this talk, no one seems exactly who is in charge of anything anymore.

Actually, the plot thread involving the war in Iraq is the most engrossing portion of “W.“ Although these scenes don’t contain much of anything that hasn’t been discussed at length in any of the innumerable books and articles on the subject, they have an intensity and snap to them that brings them to life in the manner of a Bizzaro World version of the Hall of Presidents attraction at Disney World that has left in all the dark and scary stuff (such as Cheney bluntly responding to Powell’s query about an exit strategy from Iraq with “There is no exit. We stay”) and if Stone had concentrated on them to a greater degree, it might have resulted in some gripping political theater. The problem here is that neither Stone nor screenwriter Stanley Weiser don’t really seem to have any idea of what they want to say about Bush and his legacy. At times, they go out of their ways to make him look like a dope--in a film that doesn’t deal at all with Bush’s presidential campaigns or the controversies surrounding both of his elections and his questionable business alliances, they make sure to include the moment in which he nearly choked to death on a pretzel--while in other moments, they offer up a surprisingly sympathetic depiction of the man, especially in regards to his born-again experience. By offering highlights of her pre-presidential life meant to underscore the various personality aspects that would make him the man that he would become, they give us an agreeable surface-level look at the man but their unwillingness to probe deeper is a disappointment.

Essentially, “W” has one psychological card to play--that it was a lifetime of daddy issues that drove Bush to do everything in his life from getting tanked at Yale to entering politics to defeating the man that his Dad let get away in an effort to win his father’s approval while proving himself to be his own man--and in typical Stone fashion, he plays it over and over again until he is certain that even the slowest viewers have gotten the point. Coming from a filmmaker who managed to find intriguing depths and humanity in a character as reviled as Richard Nixon, the basic Psych 101-level approach on display here can’t help but come across as a disappointment by comparison. The various confrontation scenes between father and son are well done but after a while, they become a little monotonous and the grand culmination--a strange dream sequence in which the two prepare to duke it out in the Oval Office after the elder bush chastises his son for destroying the family name--is a bit of silliness that only serves to once again underline the subtext that I guarantee that everyone in the theater has grasped by that point. (That said, the surreality of the scene does suggest the kind of film that Stone might have made in his wilder days before the failure of the deranged “Alexander” apparently shied him away from such flamboyance for the foreseeable future.)

Although some of the performances from the large cast don’t quite come off--Thandie Newton is funny as Rice but her approach is of such a satirical nature that it clashes with some of the more naturalistic turns and Ellen Burstyn and Elizabeth Banks don’t get much opportunity to show off their skills as the two most important women in Bush’s life--most of them do a very good job of hitting the mark. Although neither one really looks like the people they are playing, James Cromwell and Jeffrey Wright both lend such commanding authority to their roles as George Bush Sr. and Colin Powell that we overlook the lack of resemblance in much the same way that we did when we saw Anthony Hopkins playing Nixon. As Dick Cheney, Richard Dreyfuss does an excellent job of conjuring the sheer malevolence of the man without ever letting it slip into outright satire--a breakfast conversation with Bush in which he tries to get his approach to interrogation techniques approved is both funny and creepy. The standout performance, though, comes from Josh Brolin as the title initial. Yes, he has been on a role in the last couple of years thanks to films as varied as “Grindhouse” and “No Country for Old Men” but nothing that he has done before suggested what he does here. He has both the look and the glad-handing manner of Bush down pat but what he does here is more than just a mere imitation--he actually figures out a way to bring depth and soul to a man not often accused of possessing either and to see his reduction from a supremely self-confident leader to the sunken man at the end flop-sweating through a press conference is enough to make even the most liberal of filmgoers feel a slight twinge of sympathy for the man. This is a great performance--one of the year’s best--and regardless of how “W” fares with the public, it should supercharge Brolin’s career.

“W” was developed and shot very quickly--it began shooting in May and went through an accelerated production period in order to get it out before the election in November--and while one should applaud Stone for the sheer accomplishment of pulling off such a feat, the occasional thinness of the material makes you wish that he had spent a little more time on it. In a way, the final product reminded me a little bit of John Sayles’ “Silver City,” a political drama involving a Bush-like politician (and which also featured Richard Dreyfuss, there in the Karl Rove part) that he slammed through production in order to get it out in time for the 2004 election--like “W,” the Herculean effort to get it done in time caused a normally reliable filmmaker to shoot a screenplay that had a lot of good ideas and scenes but no real idea of how to pull them together. Granted, “W” is a much better and more accomplished work than “Silver City” but even though I like it enough to recommend it, I can’t shake the nagging sense that it could have been so much better. Maybe in a couple of years, after Bush has left the White House for good, Stone can return to the material, shoot some new scenes and rework it into something smarter and deeper and ultimately worthy of its subject matter.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17501&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/17/08 00:14:20
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User Comments

11/12/09 Jeff Wilder Good. Could've been better. 3 stars
9/19/09 MP Bartley Brolin is great but film is thinly sketched. Stone should have sat on it a few years... 3 stars
2/14/09 Anthony Feor One of my favorite films of 2008. Loved it. 5 stars
2/14/09 Tony Sanitized retelling of the rape of Lady Liberty and Madam Justice from the rapists' pov 2 stars
2/11/09 Jay A waste of time. I am as upset about Bush as anyone, but this film is flimsy and dumb. 1 stars
1/25/09 mr.mike Brolin's spot-on performance carries an OK film. 3.5 stars. 3 stars
1/14/09 FrankNFurter Oliver Stone is a pussy. This film is totally dumb & toothless, much like the president. 1 stars
11/10/08 Colleen H a sad commentary, especially his relationship with GHW 3 stars
10/26/08 Samantha Pruitt the acting was great, it made you kind of feel bad for him. Brolin was great! 4 stars
10/24/08 Simon Indecisive film, which despite admirable sympathetic intentions, leaves viewer dissatisfied 3 stars
10/22/08 g. amusing but not great 3 stars
10/22/08 Erik Great Review,watching this for Josh Brolin. 4 stars
10/19/08 PAUL SHORTT OFFERS ONLY CHEAP JABS RATHER THAN USEFUL INSIGHTS 2 stars
10/18/08 Nick Somoski Nothing like I thought it would be - it was actually a great portrait of Bush's life! 4 stars
10/18/08 Dru Stone is a genius, and I actually felt a twinge or two of sympathy for W. 4 stars
10/17/08 tiffany pettey great acting in this movie 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Oct-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Oct-2008
  DVD: 10-Feb-2009



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