Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Film Review: W.

The Presidency of George Walker Bush hasn't even finished yet, and for most Americans (and apparently many citizens from around the world) the next 90 days can't end soon enough. And yet with three months to go until the end of the 43rd President's tenure, director Oliver Stone has already come out with a film that not only takes a look at the life and rise to power of George W. Bush, but also much of his term in the build-up and aftermath of the War in Iraq. Despite Stone's liberal leanings, it is surprising how generous it is in its portrayal of Bush Jr., whether intentional or not, but the film overall is uneven.

Not much needs to be said about the storyline as the life George W. Bush is fairly well-known. While Oliver Stone is a very capable director, the narrative felt overly repetitive, shifting too frequently between Bush's past and his presidency. I understand the intent, which was to keep things fresh so that the movie doesn't feel like its trudging from one scene to the next. Unfortunately, it happened so much that I inevitably felt that it happened way too much. Pacing was also an issue, with too many things feeling overlooked. As mentioned above, Stone is a very skilled director, unfortunately it felt like he was too aware of the clock and was trying to move things along in the interest of time. And yet, while it felt like things were missing (I'm interested in seeing what was left on the cutting room floor) the movie also felt like it extended its welcome by a good 30 minutes.

In general, the acting is top notch and the dialogue fairy believable. You can believe that you are watching and listening to George W. Bush, a nod to both screenwriter Stanley Weiser and especially actor Josh Brolin who gives the performance of a lifetime. Watch for Brolin during the award season. Also believable are Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Toby Jones as Karl Rove, whose portrayals are spot-on. Scott Gleen and other administration officials blend into the background and their portrayals are somewhat hard to judge, though they seem to do well.

However, there are a couple performances that feel uneven or out-of-place. Elizabath Banks may certainly have the look of Laura Bush down, but the character felt lifeless and one-dimensional. Whether that is due to Laura Bush not being the public eye nearly as much as former-First Lady Hilary Clinton was during her husband's presidency or simply a lack of interest on the part of writer Weiser (or both), there was neither life nor substance to this pivotal person in the titular character's life. And unfortunately, this feels like a big piece of the puzzle that was greatly overlooked, as it is stated in the first scene between W. and Laura that she votes Democratic, despite W.'s Republican party affiliations. How the two overcame different viewpoints and political standings to marry and have two daughters is something that is completely overlooked. And while I mention it, there is a passing mention of the Bush twins, nothing more. We don't even get any insight into what it is like for George W. Bush to be a father.

Next, is James Cromwell. There is nothing wrong with his performance. Actually, Cromwell is one of the most reliable character actors today. But in a movie that is so focused on charactures, you never get the feeling that Cromwell is actually George Bush Sr. While you have Brolin, Dreyfuss, Jones and company delivering in such ways that you believe they are the real thing, Cromwell's portrayal of Bush Sr. feels out of place.

And finally, Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice is plain insulting. Her performance is characture to the extreme in such a way that it is laughable! The look is there, but the mannerisms are played to such an extreme that not only are they laughable, they are distracting. Every time Newton is onscreen, you can't help but snicker because it is so bad and out-of-place. This is one instance where less definitely would've been better. Newton was trying way too hard!

I felt like there many missed opportunities in the film. Less time should've been spent on the buildup to the war in Iraq and more on the things that made George W. Bush who he is. As mentioned before, the relationship between Bush and wife Laura is barely touched upon. One moment, they're flirting. The next, they're dating. The next, they're married. In getting from point A to C to E, B and D were skipped. Also, it quickly becomes apparent that Karl Rove played a large part in making George W. Bush the politican that he is today. And yet, it is never touched upon how they met. Suddenly, Rove is there as one of Bush's most trusted advisors, with no explanation of how he got there nor how he gained such a prominent place in the Bush presidency. A deeper look into the Bush/Rove beginners would've been interesting.

And last, the conflict between Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. At the heart of the Bush family tension is the competition between George W. and brother Jeb, who seems to be the favorite of father and mother Bush. And yet, Jeb Bush barely gets any screentime, and whether the favoritism caused any tension between the two brothers was not even addressed. Nor was it really touched upon why Jeb was much more highly favored by their parents. Was Jeb more responsible then George? Was he a better student? Was he smarter? In the end, these are questions that are left unanswered.

In the end, the film felt 30 minutes too long, yet with pieces left on the cutting room floor that would've made a better movie. It seems that the wrong parts were cut. Yet, nothing about the movie felt new. It is something that most people already knew. Stone seems more interested in depicting the events in a constantly shifting narrative rather then providing any new insight into the life of George W. Bush. However, whether it was Stone's intention or not, Bush comes across as sympathetic.

Whatever your believe of George W. Bush, W. helped affirm to me what I have long been trying to understand; George W. Bush might not be the brightest man, nor the most qualified to ever hold the highest office in America, but he really isn't a bad man. I might not have ever voted for the guy, and nor will I ever, but I do believe that he is a good, caring man who holds strong convictions, whether they be right or wrong. While he probably will never go down as one of America's greatest presidents, in some ways, you can't help but feel sorry for the guy. At the end of W., that's exactly what I felt for him; sorry.

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Evie said...

Ha! I posted my review a little more than an hour before you posted this. Your assessment of Josh Brolin's performance was a bit higher than mine, and your assessment of Cromwell's was a bit lower than mine, so we probably come out nearly even there. I agree with you that the women were pitiful and I think we're of similar minds about this movie overall. I don't regret having seen it, but I don't think I'll feel any compulsion to watch it again.

Dave said...

I agree that W is a sincere man, but he has been a poor President and will be viewed as such.