Synopsis: George ‘Dubya’ Bush (Josh Brolin) rises from being a useless rich boy who is constantly overshadowed by his father George H.W. Bush to defining (and ruining) the Bush family legacy by invading Iraq under the assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Which he didn’t. The movie deals largely with the events before Bush’s reelection in 2004, since if Oliver Stone tried to deal with the financial crisis as well, well, shit would have hit the fan, as the saying goes. If you don’t know who George Bush is, this is the story of one man’s American dream.
Recommended for: Basically anyone who is interested in hearing more about Dubya. Which is not as many people as I thought, something I learned when I tried to organize a trip to the movies to see this movie. But nonetheless, for those of you fascinated by the human being who became the United States’ 43rd president and single-handedly invaded Iraq and basically made the world his playground despite having nearly failed Harvard Business School and basically being a useless slob until the ripe age of 40, this is the film for you. Also for people who want to see any actor who is not Will Ferrell as Dubya. Apparently Christian Bale was cast as Dubya (that would’ve been a sight to see, eh?) but he didn’t like the prosthetics, so they got Josh Brolin, who looks slightly more like Dubya than Bale. And he does a pretty good job as Bush, so you’ll be satisfied.
Review: To be honest, I’m not quite sure if Oliver Stone made this film as a joke, despite the fact that he said it wasn’t intended to be a comedy, or if he said that just to appease to Dick Cheney so he wouldn’t shoot him in the face with a shotgun. Whatever the case, W. is a pretty funny movie, in a kind of horrifying way. Horrifying, because most of the events were actually true. With real-life consequences. So basically, if you’ve been following American politics for the past decade or so, you’ll be cringing at every turn. But you won’t be able to stop looking. It’s sort of like watching a car accident. It’s morbidly fascinating.
Now, the actual craft of the movie won’t be the deciding factor for whether you can handle this movie or not. I mean, the movie is about one of the most controversial figures in American politics today, so if you think that George Bush stole the 2000 election and sent the nation into a downward spiral of religious fanaticism and right-wing fascism, well, no matter how good the cinematography or the acting is (the acting isn’t all that good, actually), this movie will sicken you to your core. If you’re mildly critical of his political inadequacies and find him a rather intriguing individual, you might be able to handle this movie. But it definitely depends on your tolerance for Bush. Oh haha, that’s really mature.
Like I said, the movie experience largely depends on your opinions on Bush. But then again, it also partially depends on how you view the acting. Like I said before, Josh Brolin does a pretty good job with Dubya, and the whole Bush family does a great job in general, especially James Cromwell, who makes a terrific George Sr. His political inner circle, on the other hand, seems to be a poorly-constructed troupe of caricatures, and honestly, I had no idea who some of the characters were (hint: Donald Rumsfeld). Richard Dreyfuss was the only convincing person as the sneering puppet-master Vice President Dick Cheney. I haven’t seen much of Secretaries Rice and Powell to know their exact mannerisms, but I’m pretty sure that whatever those actors did wasn’t them. It’s just a feeling.
But these people are just supporting acts. The main show is still Dubya. And the director made sure to pay homage to the great Bushisms that have accumulated over these past couple of years (“I’m the decider”, “Is our children learning?” etc.) and some memorable events in Dubya’s political career, like the time he choked on a pretzel or the whole “Mission Accomplished” fiasco. Yeah, good times.
Despite the sometimes poor acting and the fact that it’s about one of the least beloved presidents in recent history, it’s fascinating to see how George W. Bush’s went from highly privileged zero to, well, President of the USA zero. It might not be a must-see movie, but you probably won’t be disappointed. Sickened, maybe, but not disappointed. The take-home message? Truth can be stranger than fiction. Yeah, you probably could never market the story of a bumbling cowboy who becomes President of the USA (hilarity ensues) to any film studio if it were fiction. Maybe Disney. White House Musical?
Alternative movies if you are looking for:
Political drama: For those looking for political intrigue in the Rovian sense, W. will be a disappointing film. After all, it’s mostly about George W. Bush the man, not George W. Bush the 43rd President of the United States. If you want some good political drama and tension between Republicans and Democrats, then I suggest the West Wing, possibly one of the greatest TV series ever made. Also, many of the characters are based on real-life characters who may or may not be working with current president Barack Obama, so in a sense, it has as much real life applicability as this movie. Probably not, though.
A politically charged Oliver Stone film: If you were expecting W. to criticize the hell out of George W. Bush, something you would expect from a Hollywood liberal like Oliver Stone, you’d be surprised at how sympathetic Stone is to the character he paints in his film. He doesn’t glorify him, but considering the fact that most would make the movie into an outright farce, Stone is as nice as he could possibly get. If you want to see a movie where Stone takes off the kiddie gloves and goes after anyone regardless of actual involvement or not, I suggest JFK. I think he accuses LBJ of assassinating Jack Kennedy at one point.
A really bad Oliver Stone film: Alexander. Oliver Stone tried to blame the movie’s poor performance on the anti-gays, but honestly? It was possibly one of the most disappointing movies I’d seen in a while, and I had no idea there was any homoerotic content in the film. Maybe I just missed it in the awfulness of the movie. It’s really hard to make a movie about a known historical figure that was in lots and lots of epic battles with a large budget and make it unpopular, but Stone manages to do so. Alexander the Great must be rolling in his grave.
A romantic comedy: I would suggest He’s Just Not That Into You just to make you go away, but I actually have a pretty good suggestion this time. If you want romantic comedy, but you also want political comedy, I would suggest The American President. Michael Douglas, who also starred in Stone’s hit Wall Street (which is topically relevant), is the title character who also happens to be a widow. I might be getting things confused with Independence Day, but I’m pretty sure that’s the premise. I enjoyed it greatly.