Chronicling key moments in George W. Bush's life, from his wayward youth to his invasion of Iraq, Oliver Stone paints a portrait of a man eager to step out of his father's shadow. 

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Oliver Stone’s third essay at analysing a highly flawed US president has its flaws.


George W. Bush left office as the most unpopular American president in at least six decades, according to numerous opinion polls in the US. So it was no great surprise that a movie about the rise and downfall of the good ol’ boy from Texas was largely ignored by US audiences, despite director Oliver Stone’s prior success in chronicling highly flawed US presidents in JFK and Nixon. Which begs the question: If Yanks didn’t embrace W., why would the rest of the world care? Well, my guess is this uneven and fitfully entertaining mix of satire, quasi-documentary and tragedy will appeal strictly to political junkies and Stone’s fans.

The movie opens with the middle-aged Bush (Josh Brolin) standing in an empty baseball stadium, wearing the number 43 jersey (denoting the 43rd president) and waving to the cheers of a non-existent crowd: undoubtedly an allegory for the acclaim he sought all his life, and was denied at the end of his time in the Oval Office.

The script by Stanley Weiser (who also penned Stone’s Wall Street) bounces bounce back and forth between the Iraq-dominated presidency and George W.’s transformation from an aimless, boozing, womanising, rich kid to a sober, born-again Christian, loving husband of Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and leader of the free world.

He’s clearly manipulated by the neo-cons in cabinet, led by the scheming Vice-President Dick Cheney (a sneering Richard Dreyfus), Secretary of Defence
Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Karl Rove (Toby Jones), who tutors him on sound bites and tries unsuccessfully to stop him mangling the language.

Jeffrey Wright is a terrific actor but he lacks the gravitas and commanding presence to be convincing as Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thandie Newton looks and sounds uncannily like Condoleezza Rice, but Condi is shown here as little more than a bit player in a White House dominated by alpha-males.

At the core of the film, however, is W’s troubled relationship with his father (James Cromwell) and mother Barbara (Ellen Burstyn). Young George was a constant disappointment to his father, according to this version of events. 'What do you think you are, a Kennedy?" George Sr. bellows after one of his son’s drunken escapades. W. himself felt he could never please 'poppy," no matter what he did or how hard he tried.

How much is fact and how much is fiction? I’m not sure, although the bickering in the Cabinet between Powell and the neo-cons seems credible, as does Bush’s meltdown when he’s finally told there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Elizabeth Banks is terrific as the young Laura, an earthy librarian who supports the Democrats when she first meets George, but she recedes into the background as the story progresses.

Brolin displays an impressive range as his character evolves from 1960s frat boy to a president who seemed on top of the world after the fall of Saddam Hussein,
and who could not seem to comprehend his later downfall.

While this W is portrayed as an amiable, baseball-loving, God-fearing simple-minded, self-righteous guy who was rarely troubled by self-doubt or intellect, I suspect the real W. was much more terrifying.

Details

M
2 hours 11 min
In Cinemas 26 February 2009,
Wed, 07/08/2009 - 11

Genres