W. (I) (2008)

PG-13   |    |  Biography, Comedy, Drama

W. (2008) Poster

A chronicle of the life and Presidency of George W. Bush.

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  • Diane Lane and James Brolin at an event for W. (2008)
  • James Cromwell and Josh Brolin in W. (2008)
  • Scott Glenn at an event for W. (2008)
  • James Cromwell at an event for W. (2008)
  • Josh Brolin in W. (2008)
  • Oliver Stone and Paul Haggis at an event for W. (2008)

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21 March 2016 | ElMaruecan82
| Uncompromising character study and insightful family drama that'll make you understand the past... and fear the future...
Everyone who saw Cronenberg's" Dead Zone" remembers Greg Stillson, a charismatic demagogue played by Martin Sheen, speaking the people's language, to finally lead the world to a Nuclear Holocaust just because he believed he had a destiny. This is not to say that George W. Bush played in the same league but the ex-President believed he had a destiny as well, and his tenure also changed the face of the world with September 11 as a convenient excuse. Seven years after the terrorist attacks, Oliver Stone had enough material to give an impartial portrait of then President George W. Bush.

Was he the worst? I've often wondered that myself. Well, I don't think as a human being he was, and Stone makes a big effort to make him look genuinely sympathetic with pathetic emphasized, so does Josh Brolin who delivers one of the most underrated performances of the last decade. I think what can be said about W. is that he was the worst President at the worst possible time… his image of a reborn Christian after Clinton's disastrous second tenure earned him the ticket to the White House (although we'll never know what happened with these ballots in Florida) but after his election, there wasn't much to say apart from … the good Christian image and his 'family' background. And then came September 11, and it turned W. into the crusader of the Free World against the Axis of Evil.

A movie like "W." might be seen as the attempt from a renowned leftist director to tarnish what's left from a disastrous legacy anyway: a sham war and a real crisis. But there's so much negative stuff to say about "W." that no film was needed for that, any Michael Moore documentary would've done fine. The portrait painted by Stone, if not flattering, is well-balanced and tends to explain how W. conducted the world to the most useless and pointless war whose consequences are still palpable now. It's cleverly structured, almost entertaining, going back and forth between the present and the past, where he had to live under the shadow of a respectable family and the constant burden to prove his father that he was as valuable as his brother Jeb. George wasn't the black sheep of the Family, but a well-meaning guy who wanted to prove his worth in a way or another.

This is an interesting case of 'Napoleon' syndrome where the physical strength is replaced by the intellect. Basically, W. had too much to prove with each failure pushing him in the abyss of alcoholism and depression, much to his father's disappointment. George Bush Sr. is played by James Cromwell, who's far taller than the real Bush was, but that gives him an edge over his son, fitting the narrative as he physically towers him, and it's interesting that the only scene where George openly criticizes his choices (not eliminating Saddam Hussein, thus costing him a reelection), George is standing and his father sitting and weeping, waiting for Barbara Bush's consolation (Ellen Burstyn plays the strong-willed matriarch). It's not your usual oedipal case as George is torn between the will to please his father and to get off his shadow.

And through his presidency, he succeeds by both honoring and killing his father, symbolically. Josh Brolin plays a wonderful Bush, fully confident in public, but in private, desperate to make the right choice. The two steps that lead to his rebirth were Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks) who could see the potential of being the woman behind the promising great man, and a disastrous senator's campaign where he was attacked because of his wealthy background and alcoholism. W. understood where the problem came from, and translated his dependence from his father and booze to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and this became his trademark, something many Americans could respond to. This is a guy whose choices of life were questionable but he openly admitted his mistakes, because he changed. He had a marketing plan all worked up, and the Republicans and conservative warmongers knew his potential. W. remains a naive character in his conviction that he's the one leading the show as his good-Christian facade was the perfect foil to more malevolent intents, magnificently conveyed by Richard Dreyfus' portrayal of Dick Cheney.

A lot can be said about the performances, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice or Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld, they are all good, and maybe Brolin was in a too-crowded a year to get an Oscar-nomination, but boy, was Dreyfus as Cheney chilling, when he delivers his speech about the necessity to attack Iraq, he's as cold and magnetic as Hannibal Lecter, and the scene is even scarier now that the harm is done. We knew it was all about the oil, we knew there wasn't any massive destruction weapons but September 11, for all the horror and patriotism it resurrected, called for a reaction, and that was the perfect timing to finally get rid of Saddam, and surround Iran. Nature hates emptiness and now, the same scenario is used in Syria, after Libya. And guess what? There wasn't no W., there was the supposedly greatest answer to his years of regression: Barack Obama.

The interactions between W. and his team prove that the President hardly matters, it's all about the balance between economical needs and political interests. I guess Obama thought as much as W. that he 'had a destiny', as much as Nixon, who inspired another magnificent political biopic by Oliver Stone. He also had good intentions and we know which way they generally pave to. Obama ends his Presidency leaving a similar thirst for a resurgence of American ideals, exactly what made a President out of W's pedigree. Just imagine what this context can make out of a charismatic billionaire who controls as much as he pleases the media… maybe this time, we'll have our Greg Stillson.

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