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'W' Review

Created on 11/1/2008

In my other blog at I wrote yesterday about the politics behind the film W and other films like it, particularly from this film’s director, Oliver Stone.

At a time when America is lurching towards its newly elected President Elect Obama you would think it was a potentially great time for a great director to make the definitive film about his predecessor, but this is neither that film nor that director.

I promised to review the film today, and to do so will now avoid the political arguments that I have already voiced in my previous articles.

This film is the totally biased political hate message from Oliver Stone and to all things neo Conservative.

"W" takes viewers through Bush's sometimes bizarre but always busy life -- his many apparent trials and tribulations as he struggled to come out from the giant shadow cast by his ultra successful and high achieving family, particularly his father, his namesake, the first President George Bush. He had been gifted at everything he touched, being a heroic Second World War pilot, successful in business, and in politics and as head of the CIA. It was a great deal to live up to and George W found it a challenge he couldn’t live up to for the first part of his life.

The film shows this is in colorful detail and Josh Brolin is especially good at portraying this part of George W’s life. The story flashes back and forth in time as we also see George W as President dealing with the Iraq war as it unfolds. It is this aspect of the story that appears politically loaded which comes across in strange ways. Some of the scenes between the major players in the inner circles of the US government portray everyone as neo conservative fanatics, weak willed or weak minded. This is when the film sinks into caricature rather than any kind of attempt at accuracy.

The film is at its best, and that really isn’t great, when it demonstrates how George W found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

Leading the all-star cast is Josh Brolin ("No Country For Old Men", "American Gangster") as the eponymous character who is joined by James Cromwell ("The Queen") as George H.W. Bush. He always gives a good performance, and this is no exception, but he is let down by the screenplay by Stanley Weisser that calls for us to accept, at its centre, an implausible relationship between the two Bush men. In fact with the screenplay being so implausible, unfunny and wooden we are compelled to examine the cause for this fault. It is the filmmakers over heated desire to assassinate the character of George W never mind any facts that might hinder this aim.

It’s hard not to parody Stone’s version of super pumped up right-wingers but experience tells us not to attempt to parody a parody. It’s a pity that Stone had never learned this lesson. With these faults at the core of the film it can never work on a human level, who is there to care about in this film, in fact who is real enough to warrant our attention for good or ill?

Elizabeth Banks ("The 40 year Old Virgin", "Meet Dave") is fine as Laura Bush, but, and I am sure this is no accident; she is much portrayed as a Stepford Wife. Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream") is excellently cast as Barbara Bush. Toby Jones ("Infamous", "Frost/Nixon") is a very convincing Karl Rove, but I suspect this is more to do with the fact that he’s a terrific actor than anything about the accuracy of the portrayal.

Thandie Newton ("Crash", "RocknRolla") is totally unconvincing as Condoleezza Rice because she portrays her as some kind of Bush pet idiot, and that simply is not plausible. In fact, any awards that Thandie was given for Crash should now be taken back for the awful acting and accent she gives us here.

Ioan Gruffud ("Fantastic Four") only has one sequence as Tony Blair and demonstrates none of the charm or charisma that clearly was one of the reasons he was so highly regarded by the non-British leaders he encountered.

The supporting cast includes some wonderful actors such as Richard Dreyfuss who are all fine but almost all of them seem to be taking part in an attempt to demonstrate just how stupid the team around Bush is rather than either entertain us or simply tell us an engaging story.

All of the technical work is of the usually excellent standard we take for granted and I am glad to note that the ageing of the cast as the story unfolds is handled better than it sometimes is. The problems here come from the sometimes cartoon characters in the script by and the direction of Oliver Stone. They are both so determined to lampoon the President they forgot he is a real man who was elected and re-elected. If your film says he is such an idiot what does that say for the many millions of Americans who voted for him?

As always when I write something political about a left leaning artist such as Oliver Stone, as I did yesterday, that questions the politically correct accepted truths of the political left, in either the UK or the USA, this brought a deluge of e-mail. Mostly from the right-wingers who agreed with what they perceived to be my fellow traveling credentials. There was also the odd criticism of me, from the left, castigating me for my being right wing. I am, I hope, much more complex than this, but that is another story.

I respectfully point out that I was criticizing the immorality of the lies used by propagandists for either side of the political equation, I was not expressing favoritism in either direction, just my bias against liars pretending to be seekers of truth in an almost documentary style, when they are, in fact, biased story tellers with a political agenda they are determined to pursue.

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