Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oliver Stone's W: Unexpected in More Ways than One

It wasn't at all what I expected:

I went late last night to Oviedo mall, and I figured it would be just me in there. The theater was pretty packed, however.

I also assumed that it would be mostly liberals and the anti-Bush crowd, but it was pretty mixed. I could tell because half the audience would cheer and the other half would jeer at the same parts either showing Bush in a good light or bad.

Finally, the trailors and posters of the film do not do it justice. They feature only the parts where Bush looks silly, so I expected more of a hit job. I'm glad it wasn't, because that would have been boring.

Love or hate him, you have to admit that George W. Bush is a very interesting man. Essentially, you had an unfocused, adolescent drunk through his early 40s, completely written off by his family as hopeless, finding religion and beginning a meteoric rise to become leader of the free world. Gotta admit, there's a story there.

Over the past 8 years, characatures have been drawn about W (really dumb), his wife (stepford), and the Bush family (power-hungry). This film doesn't play into any of those stereotypes. Stone did his research and treated his subjects fairly.

The movie is told in two simultaneous storylines that merge at the end. The movie focuses on what will be the Bush legacy--the run-up and subsequent invasion of Iraq. The movie flashes back during this time to tell the story of W growing up from the late 60s until it catches up to the invasion storyline.

By presenting the movie in this fashion, you get a deeper understanding of why W does the things W does. At a press conference, where Bush can't admit a mistake, you see how the complicated family dynamic, especially with his father and brother Jeb, played into that. You understand how his unsatiable drive to succeed was fueled by his fear and hatred of being perceived as a failure, such as his first run for Congress: "I'll never be out-Texaned or out-Christianed again!" And you understand how his conversion to Christianity, which the movie does not treat lightly, shaped his black and white view of the world as good and evil.

Bottom line: if you were expecting a film trashing Bush about 9/11, My Pet Goat, Katrina, the economy, etc., you will be disappointed. If you are expecting a gushing film showing a brave leader standing with a bullhorn and fighting evil with truth, justice, and the American Way, you will be more disappointed.

But if you expect a film about a complicated man that takes a hard, fair, and surprising look at this interesting story, you will enjoy it. The film certainly has its flaws. The ending I felt was weak. Also, there are many aspects of Bush's life that the film left out for time (it's a little over 2 hours long) which I wish they would have examined--which makes me think this film would have been better as a mini-series. The introduction of Rove is rushed and the story of Bush's first real success, beating a popular governor of Texas, was glossed over--and that is a story that could have been a movie unto itself.

Josh Brolin gave the performance of his career. You can tell he really studied Bush. Not just his mannerisms, but Brolin even studied how Bush walked at different points of his life. That really came across, and you evenutally saw just W. Other impersonations were good, but none were as strong as Brolin's.

In the end, I felt I got my money's worth. Afterall, the movie got out at 1am and I still wanted more.

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