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W. (2008)

Bush

A life misunderestimated.

Directed by:

Adam Davidson

Keith Gordon

Michael Cuesta

Oliver Stone

Robert Lieberman

Steve Shill

Tony Goldwyn

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 129 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States, United States

I confess—I’m a gay-loving, gun-hating, pro-choice borderline hippie who eyes her friends with “Conservative” listed on their Facebook profiles with wary suspicion. But I didn’t go in to W. hoping for yet another George bashing—and I didn’t get one. For Oliver Stone, this is a pretty sympathetic portrayal of a man who’s been almost universally vilified by just about everyone with even the tiniest of leftist leanings, and instead of suffering from too much anti-Republican bias or Lefty extremism, it suffers from something far worse—mediocre dullness.

Poor George Junior (Josh Brolin) can’t seem to catch a break. Sure, he’s part of a Yale legacy, but he can never live up to his father’s (James Cromwell) expectations or match the success of his brother. All he really wants to do is work in baseball, but after shaking his partying ways and becoming a born-again Christian, George finds himself firmly on the political path—a path to the presidency that puts him right in the middle of some of the most volatile events in the history of the United States.

I always got the impression that George Bush was neither stupid nor inherently bad, and if this film is to be believed, that’s true. He was just a guy—not a guy with particularly lofty aspirations or driven to the political world by a need to change or save the world. Taken as a biopic full of mostly information that anyone who’s paid attention to the Bush years already knew with a clever dosing of fiction that could just as easily be true, Stone doesn’t skewer W. in the manner one would expect; this is more a sometimes humorous family drama about a boy trying to be the man his daddy hoped, but never really expected, him to be. Brolin is outstanding as the 43rd president of the United States—he never turns it in to an impression, but manages to humanize Bush. There’s a superb supporting cast as well—Richard Dreyfuss gets his evil on as Dick Cheney, and Cromwell brings a depth of fatherly worry, disappointment, and grudging affection to every scene he shares with his “son.” It’s a somewhat choppy movie, though, and by jumping back and forth in time (though a nice technique to juxtapose past indecision and failure with present), it all begins to feel like a series of anecdotes instead of flowing like a coherent narrative. Some scenes play as if the film is a comedy (Thandie Newton is shockingly bad as Condoleezza Rice, unless she’s trying out for a Saturday Night Live skit), but it wasn’t really made for laughs—and if it was, it doesn’t succeed. Brolin manages to hold it all together and make Bush a guy who wants to do better but just … can’t … but Stone doesn’t offer enough new material to make this any more than a retread of the last eight years of news.

It's Got: Josh Brolin channeling George W. Bush, Scary Richard Dreyfuss, Some funny nicknames.

It Needs: Better Condoleezza, Fewer “Make Dad Proud” moments, More consistency.

DVD Extras Audio Commentary (Oliver Stone, director); Two Featurettes: "Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Presidency," "No Stranger to Controversy: Oliver Stone's George W. Bush"; Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailer DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Frost/Nixon, Six Feet Under, Tenebre, The Silence of the Lambs, Wag the Dog

Summary

Performances go a long way to raise this presidential portrait up into something entertaining, but there’s not really anything all that memorable except some great performances by James Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, and James Cromwell.

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