REVIEW: "W." (movie)

by sbh on Friday - 17 October 2008

in Reviews

This evening, I had the pleasure of seeing W., Oliver Stone‘s new biopic about George W. Bush. The premiere had been Wednesday in New York, and Stone screened it at the Austin Film Festival on Thursday with James Cromwell (who is perhaps nine feet tall!) in attendance and fielding Q&A after the movie.

I’ve got to be honest. I really liked W.. As a guy who is firmly entrenched in the middle, leaning left on some issues, right on others, I felt like the portrayal of George W. Bush was remarkably fair — especially given what I was expecting from Oliver Stone and company. In fact, of all the characters in the film, I feel like Bush comes off the best.

The movie is well-written and well-structured (even though it just back and forth in time), and mostly well-acted (more on that in a moment).

In fact, Josh Brolin’s performance as “Junior” is so good that you don’t mind that he doesn’t really look like him. Brolin’s impression of Bush is spot-on, but it is not a caricature and does not get in the way. Instead, Brolin’s performance comes off as very honest. Cromwell’s as George H.W. Bush also rings true, though Cromwell did not even begin to do an impression of “Poppy.” This was probably a good decision as those who chose to impersonate their real-life counterparts tended to do poorly.

Chief among the poor performances was Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. Her impression of Rice was over-the-top to the point where it was just uncomfortable. She even looked uncomfortable doing it. I’m not sure what Stone and company were thinking when they allowed her to continue to do this (or, perhaps, egged her on to do it).

While the film feels somewhat balanced to me, there are some items that I just don’t get. The movie wants to vilify many of those involved in the decision to invade Iraq: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc. This I expected. Yet, the film makes Colin Powell out to be a saint. The contrast between Powell and Rice is particularly striking. Newton’s portrayal of Rice is as a weak sycophant, while Jeffrey Wright‘s portrayal of Powell presents him as the only level-headed member of Bush’s cabinet, yet he is forced to tow the line in the end.

In his brief introduction to the film, Cromwell said that the movie was timely, arriving “neither 10 years too early nor four years too late.” While I find the timing of it a bit suspect (so shortly before an election — note that many major political players are shown in this movie: John McCain, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, but no Obama), I feel like Cromwell might be right. Why not examine Bush’s presidency while it’s still fresh in our minds?

In the end, I’ve got to recommend W. for two reasons:

  • Josh Brolin’s performance
  • The interesting, almost centrist, portrait that it paints. Not sure how the Righties and the Lefties will feel about this. I am definitely interested in hearing their opinions though.

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