‘W.’ (2008)

‘W.’ is unlike every other film Oliver Stone has made. Typically, Stone uses his biopics as a window onto American history — lived history and what those characters meant within their historical context — ‘Salvador’ was as much about the Reagan era as ‘The Doors’ was about the Johnson era and the mission creep of the Vietnam War. The thing about ‘W.’ is, is that there is neither frame, picture nor metaphor: The George W. Bush presidency is the present, there is no complete, objective view of what he has meant to the country other than $2 trillion dollars in aggregate debt and the fulfillment of Republican tropes about an ineffective and failing Federal Government and its too soon to know if the lessons of Bush II will reverberate in the rest of the culture.

What ‘W.’ does do, is lean upon other, older archetypes — W is the young Prince Hal , trying to get away from his father’s legacy only to reform from his wastrel ways and accept the destiny destiny intended — in George W. Bush’s case — for his younger, smarter brother.

Though .W.’ is meant to illustrate the presidency happening to one George W. Bush, it sadly avoided the 2 or 3 most important things that occurred while Bush was in office — the movie skips around between 1967, 1992 and 2003, there is no mention of 9-11 , Iraq or Afghanistan, no Enron and no bank failures which effectively puts a great, big donut-hole in the middle of this movie.

Instead, Stone’s ‘W.’ characterizes the Bush II Presidency meant as a family-drama where the protagonist tries to overcome the low expectations of his family. What’s not addressesed, in the movie is the damage that he does to the world on the way to besting his father.

When Stone announced that he was doing ‘W.’, it elicited doubts everywhere, given the unflattering accounts he’d created for Nixon, JFK and Reagan via the eponymous and period films –, ‘Platoon’ (1995), ‘The Doors (1991), ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ (1989), ‘Wall Street’ (1987) and ‘Salvador’ (1986).

Josh Brolin does an effective job as Mr. Bush, though I suspect Mr. Bush was far less assertive than he is depicted here. Richard Dreyfuss is a serviceable Cheney, Bruce McGill is a ringer for George Tenet while Geoffrey Wright and James Cromwell each turn in serviceable jobs as Colin Powell and Bush père .

Though Stone probably had no idea of the tailspin that the Middle East and the American economy would take by the time this film was released, it’s clear that this will not be the last Bush II biopic, only the first.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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