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by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Oct 17, 2008
Josh Brolin as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s "w."
Josh Brolin as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s "w."  (Source:Lionsgate)

The key to making sense of Oliver Stone's entertaining, visionary biopic about the sitting President of the United States lies in its subtle tagline: "Based on a true story." This is no authorized biography of George W. Bush, nor does it presume to realistically encapsulate the man (or his staff) in two hours. Instead, Stone offers up a Texas-sized parable about politics, implying that W.'s path to the White House was paved with imperfection, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, and the need to prove his worth - the culmination of which was his decision to enter the Iraq war in order to put to rest the shame of youthful indiscretions. Whether this is all true is immaterial to Stone's central message, although it certainly seems likely, based on the facts. Instead, W. condemns the use of the Presidency and its cabinet positions for personal purposes under any circumstances, and levies this charge wittingly at the current administration.

The movie moves back and forth in time, depicting W.'s (Josh Brolin) early years at college as a heavy-drinking, arrogant scion of a rich family whose rise to prominence courtesy of his last name is offset by the fact that he continually disappoints his father. George Senior (James Cromwell), his own political interests front and center, browbeats his son but nonetheless covers for him while lavishing his hopes on brother Jeb. W., angry at this treatment, acts out continually, trashing business opportunities (including the management of the Texas Rangers) on his eventual way to politics. He makes a mess of that too, until he gives up the bottle, marries Laura (Elizabeth Banks), and, irritated at the botch job his father made of the 1992 election, sets his sights on the White House.

Stone theorizes that Bush's baser qualities followed him to the front door of Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond, implying that his love of excess and hyperactive need to prove his value not only engendered a legacy of ill-informed decisions, but also developed an atmosphere wherein his cabinet could take advantage of his shortcomings for their own private gain. aA string of A-list actors deliver exceptionally astute impersonations: Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney is portrayed as the self-serving brains behind the W., Thandie Newton's Condoleeza Rice a feckless yes-woman, Scott Glenn's Donald Rumsfeld a glib megalomaniac and Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell the sole selfless soul of the lot, nonetheless ensnared in petty politics by dint of proximity. And Brolin might not look precisely like George W., but he's nailed the President's mannerisms and speech patterns to a degree that by the end of the film it's uncannily difficult to readjust to the real thing.

The picture develops serious bite when this group debates a follow-up to George Senior's successful Gulf War; the Iraq incursion is debated by the cabinet in terms of oil fields and international control; only Powell stands out for calculating the cost of human life. And Stone's script creates a palpable sense of collusion surrounding the "Weapons of Mass Desctruction," which, when the artifice crumbles, results in finger-pointing and political legerdemain. It's a scathing attack on self-centered civic duty, and if Stone's characterization of W. is almost benevolent in its exploration, his condemnation of W.'s presidency is anything but.



Runtime :: 131 mins
Release Date :: Oct 17, 2008
Language :: English
Country :: United States

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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