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Elizabeth Banks, Josh Brolin, Thandie Newton, Ioan Gruffudd, Jesse Bradford, Richard Dreyfuss, James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Ellen Burstyn, Noah Wyle, Jason Ritter, Jeffrey Wright, Rob Corddry, Toby Jones, Sayed Badreya, Jonathan Breck, Michael Gaston, Allan Kolman, Dennis Boutsikaris, Jennifer Sipes, David Born, Paul Rae, Wes Chatham, Drew Waters, Brent Weisner, Tom Kemp, Bryan Massey, Randall Newsome, Chris Freihofer, Andrew Sensenig, Jim Garrity, Jeff Gibbs, James Martin Kelly, Bruce Bryant, Lacey Ford, Ashley-Anne Parker, Halley Rachal, Matthew Ramsaur, Steven E. Williams, Paul T. Taylor, Lee Ann McDade, Randal Reeder, Rodney Wiseman, John Neisler, Gillian Chung, Charles Fathy, Teresa Cheung, Jeff Hoferer, Jon Michael Davis, Terry Gamble, William Lanier, John Neisler, W. Douglas Waterfield, Jonathon Tripp, Gabriela Ostos-Tamez
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|Movie Review by Ben |
October 25th, 2008
You really have to admire what Oliver Stone pulled off here, as he himself has been a big critic of the Bush Administration (who isn't these days?). Like "Nixon," Stone has given us an empathetic portrait of an infamous President and tears down the stereotypes we have had about that person so that we can see him up close for who he really is. It is not a Bush bashing piece, which would have been pointless anyway because we get to do that on a daily basis. Oliver clearly sees this as largely a father-son story, and that George W. is a man who has spent his whole life trying to get the full respect of his father who was President before him. It is clear from the start that Father Bush respects Jeb more than he does the son he named after himself, and this leads George W. to do things that he probably would not have done otherwise, like run for political office.
"W" covers George W. Bush from his days at a Yale fraternity hazing to the end of his first term as President. His second term as President is not covered here which is just as well as we are deep in the muck of our current state of financial affairs. It flashes back and forth in time from when he is President, to his days as a rootless young man who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life other than party and get drunk. The movie does have the feel of a comedy at times while it gets more serious in other moments. The tone of the movie is not always quite certain which does take away from the movie a little, but it kept me engrossed as it covered the life of a man I can't wait to see leave the White House.
George W. Bush himself is played in the movie by Josh Brolin, and he had a great streak of parts last year in movies like "Grindhouse," "American Gangster," and of course "No Country For Old Men." Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") was originally cast as our current President, but he dropped out at the last minute. It's just as well because Brolin is a much better fit for the role, being from Texas and all. Playing Bush to a serious degree is a difficult challenge to say the least because we have all gotten used to seeing him being lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" among other shows on television, and it has gotten to where the real George W. Bush is making us laugh at him as he dances like a fool outside the White House, As a result, we cannot help but at times look at Brolin's performance as a caricature of the President played for laughs, but Brolin manages in the end to make the role his own, and it becomes more than a simple impersonation which was probably not going for anyway.
In fact, Stone did a great job of casting this movie in getting actors who don't merely impersonate people we know so well, but who embody and inhabit their characters rather than just act the part. In the process, the actors force you to look at some of these personalities a bit differently than we have in the past. Getting past the preconceptions we have of people is always tough, but it is at times necessary in order for us to better understand how these people tick.
One of the actors that I was most impressed with here was Richard Dreyfuss who plays Vice President Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss has a great and frightening scene where, in a private conference with all the heads of state, he makes a case for attacking Iraq and Iran in order to get control over their vast oil supplies, and to dictators like Saddam from coming down on us ever again. The one moment of the movie that sends a chill down everyone's spine is when someone asks Cheney what the exit strategy out of Iraq is, and he replies:
"There is no exit strategy. We stay there forever."
Everyone in the theater I was in was frozen in silence as this is the one thing we keep begging our politicians to do which is to provide an exit strategy. Dreyfuss plays the scene not at all as a villain, but as a man who convinces the Commander in Chief of why he sees this path of action as the right one for the administration to take.
Another really good performance in the movie comes from Toby Jones ("The Mist") who plays the master of smear campaigns, Karl Rove. Toby ends up making Karl Rove seem both charismatic and likable, and he also subtly brings out the emotional manipulator in Rove who succeeds in getting under W's skin to make him the puppet that he is today. I hate Rove for doing the things that he does, but Jones ends up succeeding him in making him like Rove for being as fiendishly clever as he is. Toby never portrays Rove as the way many of us would like to see him, as an evil and scheming politician out to smear the other candidate so that the one he supports has a better chance of winning. Karl's powers of manipulation are ever so subtle to the point where we barely notice them. Toby is great here, and he never tries to imitate Rove and the way he acts in real life.
As George Prescott Bush, James Cromwell doesn't try to look like the real Bush Senior which is fine. The role does not really require that he do that as the elder Bush has become more and more of a distant memory in the face of his son being President. Cromwell makes the elder Bush see that his children are at a disadvantage in that while he had to work ever so hard to achieve what he has today, his offspring have had everything handed to them on a silver platter. Bush Sr. obviously wants the best for his children, but in seeing to W's needs and troubles, he comes to see that he has done more damage than good.
As the movie goes on, Cromwell goes from presenting the elder Bush as being terribly disappointed in W to being deeply concerned over his son's direction in Iraq. We see the elder Bush at the end of the first Gulf War and his reasoning why they shouldn't go after Saddam as it might make him a hero in the eyes of many. Indeed, Stone makes us sympathize with the senior Bush in ways I never expected to. I was never a big fan of his, even though (if I was old enough) I would have voted for him over Michael Dukakis. The moment where we see Bush lose the Presidential election to Bill Clinton is also sad as it comes across that there were opportunities that would never be realized. This was shocking to me that I felt this way because I really wanted to see Clinton beat Bush in real life, and I was thrilled that he did. Cromwell proves to be one of our best character actors working right now, and to see him working as hard as he is at his age is especially encouraging to us up and coming actors.
In the end however, the movie really belongs to Josh Brolin who gives a George W. Bush who is seemingly well intentioned yet hopelessly na´ve. You may not get completely blame him for all the troubles going on in the world right now, but you can never excuse him for not taking more responsibility. We see Bush embrace God and become a born again Christian, and while that manages to help him with his drinking problem, it also gives him blind faith that will prove to be his flaw as a person that undoes him. Brolin makes Bush goofy yet well intentioned as time goes on, and he makes clear the heartache he feels as he cannot be escape the shadow of his famous father.
Stone's "W" is not the classic that "JFK" was, but it is an effectively made picture that shows how we need to understand the human side of those we brand as criminals in order to get at why they act the way we do. This is an important lesson to remember as we go on in life.
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