George W. Bush will be remembered as one of the most unpopular, divisive and incompetent presidents in US history. The incoming president will have to deal with a legacy of deregulation and fiscal mismanagement that will take years to recover from, an un-winnable war and a Middle East that is even more fractured than before. Surely this and the cabal of players responsible for his rise to power would provide fodder for a riveting drama. At least one would think so.One of the hardest things W. has to contend with are ample public gaffes and slew of documentaries that have dissected almost every facet of his living leaving precious little unsaid. Director Oliver Stone opts for a different tack, taking his cameras behind closed doors to examine what made Dubya the man he is. Unfortunately it’s hard to separate fact from fiction – Stone wasn’t there and most who were aren’t telling, so he’s left to make most of it up. Stone also spends his time rehashing Jr's hard partying ways, failed business ventures and succession of screw ups that, once again, have been covered ad nauseum.
One facet of the story that proves intriguing is the adversarial relationship between father aka “Poppy” and son: W is portrayed as the son who wants to live up to his father’s expectations and escape the shadow of his overachieving brother. Unfortunately that dynamic soon runs dry and devolves into little more than petty bickering.
W. the movie also suffers for being too contemporary: it’s difficult trying to fictionalize complex events and individuals while they are still fresh in our minds. James Cromwell steals the spotlight with his portrayal of Bush Sr., imbuing him with a range of genuine emotion. Josh Brolin is adequate as W, although he occasionally sounds a bit campy and Richard Dreyfus is suitably creepy as Dick Cheney. The rest of the cast however comes across as a troupe of second rate imitators on a bad comedy sketch show: Thandie Newton’s Condoleeza Rice is laughably robotic, Jeffrey Wright’s Colin Powell is an interminable whiner… Elizabeth Banks acquits herself well, but is about 30 years too young for the role and it shows.It is Stone’s decision to treat Bush with kid gloves however, essentially absolving him of any responsibility for his actions that is the film’s greatest weakness: if you’re to believe the film he’s a born again reformed who really believed in spreading democracy and whose only fault was simply accepting bad advice from his advisers - he’s just one man after all. Yeah, right. Believe that and I’ve got some fire sale mortgages you might be interested in.