Movie Review: “W.”

Whether you love him or you love to hate him, you must admit that our 43rd president, George Walker Bush, is a terrific conversation starter. Even the shyest and most politically uneducated people seem to have a strong opinion on the current man in the Oval Office. With the 2008 presidential election in full swing and news channels consistently reporting it, politics have invaded every aspect of our lives. And the American people aren’t sick of them yet. Three time Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone capitalized on this phenomenon with his biographical feature film of our incumbent president. Based on the life and times of George Walker Bush (played by Josh Brolin), “W.” attempts to recreate the seminal events in the president’s life that led him to become the man he is today. Beginning with his college years at Yale University and ending with a look at the decisions made during the Iraq War, “W.” attempts to study Bush from a political, religious and emotional standpoint. Stone is widely known as being a staunch liberal, so critics and fans alike suspected that “W.” was going to be nothing more than a “Bush-bashing” flick. In some respects, it is. However, there are moments when the tone of “W.” is almost sympathetic. It’s a surprise, really, and a welcome one at that. It’s nice to know that Stone tried to create a movie that gives Bush a fair trial. However, because he attempts to keep his movie balanced, Stone creates an uncertain tone throughout the entire film. One second, “W.” is showing a beaten down, pitiable Bush, and the next it’s mocking him. Some movies can pull this off, but in “W.’s” case, it’s simply off-putting. Some of the issues with the overall tone stem from the weird sequence of time. “W.” attempts to show off a huge chunk of “Dubya’s” life, and in doing so it jumps from past to present without much connection. And even though brevity certainly isn’t an issue (it’s a 2 hour and 11 minute-long movie), it still manages to say very little. In the first thirty minutes, Stone presents his two main themes: Dubya’s drinking problems and the relationship issues with his father. It’s not a very deep analysis, and besides this the movie doesn’t tell you anything you haven’t already heard before. In many ways, “W.” comes dangerously close to being a shallow and poorly conceived movie. In fact, “W.” could have just been a banal story glitzed-up with some pretty visuals. Luckily, an all-star cast manages to outshine the majority of the film’s problems. With Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, James Cromwell as George H. W. Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney and many more famous names playing the politicians we see on CNN, it would have been inexcusable if the acting had also been poor. Luckily, the acting is premium quality. Brolin stands out as a true movie star, utterly embodying the Bush we’ve come to know over the past eight years. Stone has assembled an unexpected pool of talent, and even though many people originally questioned the casting decisions, it’s now obvious that practically everyone was perfect for their roles. In this particularly important year in politics, “W.” is sure to polarize people. Avid supporters of Bush will appreciate the sympathetic portrayal of “Dubya” while ardent “Bush-bashers” will find some of his least flattering moments humorous. Stone tried to go for fair and balanced, but in the end created something very vanilla. Besides the acting, nothing in “W.” is particularly great. People with very strong feelings about our 43rd president might find some enjoyment out of Stone’s latest, but if you don’t fall into that category, you might just want to settle for news coverage of the 2008 election. At least the debates are consistently interesting. Grade: 3-