8 April 2009

Movie Review: W.


2008, 129mins, PG-13
Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: Stanley Weiser
Cast includes: Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Thandie Newton, Colin Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Scott Glenn, Toby Jones
Release Date: 17th October 2008

Within Oliver Stone’s directorial resume there have been substantially more cutting and important films than W., his take on George W. Bush and his reign as President. Stone seems to have lost a lot of the mettle that cut him out as a cinematic maverick over 20 years ago, maybe upon entering his twilight years he’s softened and W. would be the film to prove it. An at times bizarrely sympathetic look at a “patchy” presidential figure there are some points of interest in W. and it’s altogether modestly enjoyable, but one had hoped for a feature a little more controversial and sharp than this placid viewpoint.

The film examines Bush’s tenure as President and the path that led him to such a high profile destiny, Stone using cutback storytelling to forge the story and add as much flesh to the central figure as possible. The movie doesn’t miss many of the defining moments from the Bush administration but it largely fails to concoct them into a fresh or indeed intrepid whole, instead recycling the idea that whilst he made many a bad decision he was not in fact a bad man. It’s not that I want to see Stone make Bush out to be a demon or a political super villain, but a less understanding and harsh approach toward the consequences of those “bad decisions” would have been nice. Iraq et all are mentioned but never unearthed in a fully satisfying or detailed manner, the film frustratingly more focused on the man himself than his unfortunate legacy.

The film never operates well enough as a biopic to have drawn awards contention, but it’s quite shocking that the performances didn’t. W. is a film strewn with great actors doing great work, particularly Josh Brolin as the man himself. Brolin captures the different stages of the man’s mentality rather wonderfully and moulds himself into a believable portrait of such a modern day icon. As an actor he seems to approach the role with the same openness for consideration as Stanley Weiser’s patchy script but from an acting viewpoint it works far better. After all, it’s not as if Bush believed himself to be a political antichrist. Other standouts include Richard Dreyfuss as the infamous Dick Cheney, the lovely Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush and James Cromwell as Bush snr. Thandie Newton has her big “acting hat” on for the part of Condoleezza Rice, but other than her excessive attempts at character immersion it’s a great effort from the actors.

The movie is in effect a prolonged failure, though an interesting and intensely watchable one at that. It might strike you as odd that I have given the film a mild recommendation and yet criticize its story and weak grasp so vigorously. That’s because whilst the picture never really sinks its teeth into one of the worlds most scrutinized figures it does remain oddly intriguing throughout. The way in which Stone builds the character into one of redemptive yearning is admittedly clever and the performances are super, despite the indecisive and messy way in which the picture attempts to analyze such a messy presidency. W. is as a political commentary a failure, but as an acting master class and filmmaking curio it might have some genuine worth after all.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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