My seventeen year old daughter is keenly interested in politics and political figures so I wasn’t surprised that she wanted to see Oliver Stone’s biopic W. We saw it on Friday night in an almost full theater. In a nutshell, the movie was entertaining in a squirm-in-your-seat fashion.
Josh Brolin (l) [No Country for Old Men] starred as the Lame Duck (r). Although not a doppelganger, Brolin nailed Bushie’s mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly. Interestingly, Christian Bale was originally cast in the role, but dropped out for various reasons.
As I reminded Spawn the Yonger, this is an Oliver Stone movie, and the director is known to take plenty of artistic license in his portrayal of historic figures and events. That said, Stone, an admirably unabashed lefty, provided surprisingly even-handed treatment of Bush who emerges as a sympathetic character. This is largely due to Brolin’s interpretation of Dubya: not exactly stupid, but often clueless and in way over his head. Brolin gives the character vulnerability.
The film lacks depth and is even kind of cartoonish, but that worked for me. If I want depth, I’ll read. The supporting cast was very entertaining and I could almost imagine them drawn out DC Comics style or part of a graphic novel. Thandie Newton smirked her way through Condolezza Rice’s role. Richard Dreyfus inhabited Dick Cheney with an incredibly chilling Dr. Strangelove moment when asked by Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) about the plans for an exit strategy from Iraq. Cheney/Dreyfus’ response: “There is no exit strategy.” That turns one’s blood cold, fictionalized account or no, because it’s all too believable that Cheney has chiseled that strategy in stone.
Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Bruce McGill as George Tenet (chief of the CIA) offered constant uneasiness and tension with the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz triumvirate. I can easily imagine Powell saying “Fuck you!” to Cheney as he did in the flick. McGill as Tenet was great with his “WTF?” and otherwise “I can’t believe what these assholes are doing” expressions as the White House manufactured “yellow cake” to justify the invasion. Toby Jones was a perfect weasel as Karl Rove. James Cromwell as Poppy and Ellen Burstyn as Bar were good enough, although the whole Oedipal thing between Poppy and Dubya was overplayed. Still, Poppy’s “deeply disappointed” had plausibility. Some cool surprises: Rob Corddry as sycophant Ari Fleischer (press secretary before Scott McClellan), Ioan Gruffudd as Tony Blair, and Stacy Keach as Earle Hudd, a fictional character who is a composite of W’s fundagelical clergy pals. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush wasn’t terribly memorable.
The feel of the film was simultaneously comic and deeply chilling. In the midst of Bushie’s rah-rah cheerleaderism and his cabinet’s cold exuberance over the invasion of Iraq, Stone throws in jaw-droppingly graphic footage of the war. It was shocking (even for me), but served its purpose well, reminding the audience what really was — and is — at stake.
In his review of W, Ty Burr (of the Boston Globe; Burr is “my” most reliable film critic since I appear to share his tastes), this movie was made “too soon” and was thus uneven. Stone filmed this in a very short period of time, and I think it’s pretty obvious he intended to release it close to the election. When a clip of Bush speaking before Congress was shown with a flash of McCain on the screen, there was a collective murmur of derision throughout the theater. The area around Princeton is heavily Democratic so I guess that’s no surprise, plus I doubt that many up in Hunterdon County or in South Jersey with McCain/Palin signs in their yard are going to see this film. Some people walked out, but my guess is that it was because this, ummm, wasn’t exactly a great film.
Personally, I would much rather have seen Appaloosa (Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen), but I’m not one to discourage my kid’s zeal and budding activism.