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Excerpts from my review of “W.” in The American Conservative:

Given the limitations of Oliver Stone’s biopic about George W. Bush (modest budget, rushed production, lack of memoirs by the officials who started the Iraq War, and Stone’s own fading powers), “W.” turns out better than expected.

Anchored by another charismatic performance by Josh Brolin (the hunter turned hunted protagonist of “No Country for Old Men”), this tragicomedy of regression to the mean offers a plausible depiction of the President’s resentful yet admiring relationship with his imposing father, and the complicated ways that set the stage for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Brolin has emerged recently as such an enjoyable leading man to watch that he makes spending 129 minutes with George W. Bush fun.

The historical accuracy of Stone’s films has been improving since their nadir with the infuriating but stylistically dazzling “JFK” in 1991. Unfortunately, as the older, wiser Stone has gotten more honest, his aesthetic bravura has dwindled. … The great majority of the screenplay, though, strikes me as on solid ground, historically and psychologically. …

It has not been a success with the critics, who are annoyed that it doesn’t condemn conservatism as inherently evil. Indeed, Stone’s depiction of George H.W. Bush as an old-fashion prudent conservative is downright hagiographic. …

It’s unfortunate that Freud’s silly theories have discredited all psychological analyses based on nuclear family dynamics, because they can sometimes explain much about politicians. The ambitions of both Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, for example, were fired by political fathers who ignored their sons on the way up, then failed ignominiously.

George W. Bush’s Poppy Problem was the opposite of Obama’s: his father was an all around pretty good guy. As Stone commented, “Forty years is a long time to wait when your father is better at sports, politics, oil, money, diplomacy, and even academics than you are.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “It has not been a success with the critics, who are annoyed that it doesn’t condemn conservatism as inherently evil.”

    A bit tendentious there, Steve. From what I’ve heard, some are annoyed that it doesn’t come down harder on Bush, but more are annoyed that it doesn’t offer much insight into the man.

  2. Overall, I found “W” tedious because the story is so familiar and Stone added very little to it. He was not as tendentious as he might have been, though he does like to show the president talking with his mouth full, sitting on the toilet, and lounging in his jockey shorts. (Did Stone research the boxers vs. briefs question?) Brolin gave a fine performance although in key ways he doesn’t resemble Bush; unlike the President, Brolin has a large head and full lips, and he is unable to quite capture Bush’s baffled, in-over-his-head expression. The best performance was by Richard Dreyfus, who was dead-on as Cheney. Also, Dennis Boutsikaris was excellent as Wolfowitz. Thandie Newton captured the teacher’s pet quality of Condoleezza, though she could have used a dental prosthetic to capture that distinctive overbite. Though the resemblance was good, Elizabeth Banks seemed too bright and perky for the robotic Laura. The too-thin Scott Glenn was poorly cast as Rumsfeld; he lacked Rummy’s robust, swaggering quality. I guess one of the things wrong with a movie like this is that you spend half your time trying to decide whether or not each actor is convincing in his or her role.

  3. Agreed on Josh Brolin, he was fantastic to watch in “No Country”. Looking forward to this – if only to see him in action

  4. - says: • Website

    It has not been a success with the critics, who are annoyed that it doesn’t condemn conservatism as inherently evil. Indeed, Stone’s depiction of George H.W. Bush as an old-fashion prudent conservative is downright hagiographic.

    This was merely opportunistic of Stone to “rehabilitate” H. W. for the purpose of comparing W. unfavorably to him. Liberals have been doing that for a century now:

    – W. “was no Reagan or Bush”
    – Reagan “was no Goldwater”
    – Goldwater “was no Taft”
    – etc.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I found the film workmanlike and entertaining, but not compelling as a human drama. Stone would have had to manufacture more personal vignettes than the historical record provides to make it so.

    Bush on the toilet, clearly manufactured, was gratuitous. Condi and Rumsfeld were lacking, the latter being perhaps the most compelling real participant in the neocon fiasco, and he was not captured in his vainglory. Powell also seemed less affable than imagined.

    Mini-spoiler alert:

    The scene was wonderful where the architects are sitting in the briefing room and Bush asks “Who was supposed to be in charge of this!?!” Again though, manufactured. Also, H.W. was great–and reminded me of what the republicans used to be made of–and the Horton ad, which I had never seen, was something to behold in its political alchemy. It calcifies what a punter McCain was for ignoring the Reverend’s bigotry.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Independent of the merits of the film, I think everyone (even the most hardcore leftie) is just tired of W.

    Upto a year ago, this film may have had an audience. Now W’s reign has been such a complete disaster that people just want him to go away ASAP so the forgetting can begin.

  7. The big problem with the film is that W. just isn’t that interesting and an authentic rendering of him is going to be a bit boring. Having said that, there are several clever scenes that illuminate his personality. Per your wife’s recommendation, I just finished the new Clinton biography. It left me with a more positive view of him and the movie would be fantastic, possibly x rated but a hoot.

  8. I wonder if the liberals will be so kind when someone does a movie about Saint Obama? My guess is that they will have their spincters tighter than a snare drum.

    It seems that satire will be the only way to attack Obama.

  9. Could it be that W is just another Brezhnev of our times? His job is/was to follow the Plum Book except when he was required to switch to My Pet Goat…

    Haven’t seen the movie but it’s hard to imagine that art can imitate reality in this particular instance…

  10. I haven’t seen the movie (and probably won’t), but if the “toilet scene” involves Bush conferring with aides while seated on the toilet, then this is lifted from the life of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ was known to do this, allegedly to throw people off balance. They would be made so uncomfortable in this circumstance that they’d agree to anything just to get out of there.

    I’m not an Oliver Stone fan, but I thought his portrayal of Nixon was — for him — an above average effort. I suspect that when you dig a little, Nixon is just a more interesting personality than Bush.

  11. I too look forward to Stone’s next movie project, i.e. the blockbuster “O”. A long, boring biopic in which key “facts” are based almost entirely on paranoid fantasies found in books authored by O’s sworn enemies.

  12. It has not been a success with the critics, who are annoyed that it doesn’t condemn conservatism as inherently evil.

    GWB is a terrible vehicle for doing so, given that he’s the biggest bleeding-heart in Washington: Welcome Mexican pharmaceutical entrepreneurs. Welcome Arab air choreographers. Make test scores converge, because there’s no real difference between children. Throw mortgage welfare at color-coded deadbeats.

    Bush believes this rot, but no Democrat does. (Certainly not “Truth” who comments here.) They merely promote it cynically to advance their party. Which is more important to them than their country.

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