Thursday, 6 November 2008

W.

Oliver Stone is one of the most overtly political filmmakers working in Hollywood today. From early efforts like Platoon and Wall Street to 2006’s World Trade Centre, his movies have often been aggressively topical, demonstrating an obsessive desire to get under the skin of modern America. True to form, he’s created a biopic of the 43rd President of the United States at precisely the time the public wants to forget him. Most people won’t see W. until after George Bush’s successor has been elected, but Stone seems to think that they’d do well to remind themselves just what they’re leaving behind.

That isn’t to say that the film is a complete hatchet job—while it presents Bush (Josh Brolin) as arrogant, na├»ve and opportunistic, it never attacks his basic sincerity. The sinister shenanigans are left to Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), with calls for restraint coming from Colin Powell (Jeffery Wright). Unfortunately, few of the supporting characters transcend these broad attributes; the weirdly arthritic Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton) barely speaks for the first hour, and when she does it sounds like she’s lost all her teeth. Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd) gets a two-minute cameo, and he’s so wooden you never want to see him again. Whether that’s good acting or bad, I can’t surely say.

The only notable figure besides Bush himself is his father, George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell), who’s presented as a tremendously authoritative and conscientious individual. Stone’s main thesis in W. is that Bush Jr.’s decision to run for office was driven by his desire to reproduce his father’s achievements, rather than any strong interest in (and grasp of) politics. Plausible as it may be, this point is made without particular subtlety or insight.

Ultimately, W. fails to say anything interesting about the man who’s commanded both the highest and lowest approval ratings of any President in American history; there’s an indifferent, just-for-the-record vibe to proceedings, and were it not for the (distractingly) high-profile cast, you’d think you were watching a half-decent TV movie.

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