By Adam Frazier
Director Oliver Stone’s latest film, “W.,” isn’t apt to change your opinion of President George Walker Bush. Love him or hate him, there’s no question that George Dubya is one of the most controversial public figures in recent history. This being said, it’s surprising that the director of films like “Nixon” and “JFK” has made a biopic that doesn’t bury or praise our nation’s 43rd president.
While “W.” will no doubt give liberals more fuel to feed their fires, and have conservatives point out the inherent fallacies in having a lefty-leaning filmmaker direct a movie about a republican president, it fails to be controversial or monumental in any way. That isn’t to say Stone hasn’t succeeded on some level. He has overcome his own biased leanings and delivered a fairly even-handed, dare I say almost objective, look at our current sitting president.
If there’s one thing Stone delivers in spades, it’s his ability to take a man who has been characterized as a warmonger, a monster and the quintessential village idiot and make him a vulnerable, downright sympathetic everyman. “W.” aims to examine Bush’s (played by Josh Brolin) spotted past and his rise to the presidency, offering a more intimate view of the issues we’ve seen played out on global scale.
The film’s Freudian overview attempts to psychoanalyze George W. Bush as a man whose obsession to please “Poppy,” played by James Cromwell, knows no limits. He’s a man who has spent his whole life being told he’s not good enough, a boy who grew up in the shadow of his family’s name. Oh, the burdens that come from being born with a silver spoon planted firmly in your mouth.
Bush’s Daddy-love-me issues, combined with Dick Cheney’s diabolical lust for oil seems to be the main motivator in going to war with Iraq. It was an opportunity for Bush Jr. to finish what his father should have – to take down Saddam and prove to Bush Sr. that he was good enough after all.
Surely Oliver Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser have taken liberties (no pun intended) with analyzing Bush’s motives and intentions using dream sequences, yet Bush is not portrayed as the monstrous villain many see him as today. He’s simply a human being, and in the end, a tragic public figure that garners a small speck of sympathy.
Brolin brings all of this to life with an amazing performance that goes far beyond parody. Brolin lives and breathes as a man who had good intentions but got in over his head. And in his desperation, it would seem, Bush turns to those with ulterior motives who would manipulate his ignorance for their own gain.
A cabinet full of cronies fills out the cast, with terrific performances by Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney might as well be Satan himself in “W.,” as he seems to be constantly lurking about just waiting for the opportune moment to spring his plans on the president. Then there’s Colin Powell who seems to be the saintly hero to Cheney’s devilish role. He’s the guy sitting in the corner saying, “I told ya so,” as Bush sits in disbelief at the events unfolding.
My worst fear is that people will see “W.” as a parody – a spoof filled with impressions instead of nuanced performances. While the film is filled with plenty of tongue-tied speeches and infamous Bush-isms, it isn’t exactly a comedy. Nor is it propaganda for politically minded viewers to interpret as truth or flat-out fiction.
It’s an entertaining look back at one of the most controversial presidencies in the history of the United States. It isn’t earth-shattering, but the performances will stick with you – and who knows, maybe 10 or 15 years from now “W.” will be seen as a divisive, epic piece of cinema – but it’s too soon to tell, we’re all still living out the story already in progress.