Sunday, June 7, 2009

W (2008)

W (2008) is the first Oliver Stone film I've ever seen (really!), so I don't really have any thoughts on him as a director. I know he's also done films on Nixon and JFK and now I'd like to see them as well. As nearly everyone knows, W is a fictionalized biography of George W. Bush, also known as "Bush 43."

Onkel Hankie Pants recently blogged on "profound empathy." I have to admit that for the past 8 years or so I haven't felt much of that for Mr. Bush, but I'm certainly closer to it after seeing this film. How historically true it is I don't know (and maybe few of us will until many years from now), but Stone seems to see Bush as President as someone who is more sinned against than sinning, someone who thinks he's "The Decider," but in reality is being manipulated by Rove and Cheney and who has important things kept from him.

One of the challenges in making a biopic is finding actors who look enough like their real-life counterparts to be believable, but can also act well enough to be the characters. W was very well-cast in that respect. Josh Brolin, whom I last saw in No Country for Old Men, doesn't really look like George W. Bush, but it was possible to see him as Bush given his speech and body language. When Richard Dreyfuss first appeared in the film as Dick Cheney, sidling into a meeting and standing near the door, I actually thought Stone had inveigled the former VP into playing himself. Other performances were also excellent.

I wasn't totally convinced of the efficacy of the dream sequences Stone has larded through the film. Most show Bush in an empty baseball stadium -- at least the stands are empty, but crowd sounds abound -- or in confrontation with his father. I suppose they serve to set this film apart from the sort of thing one might see on the History Channel.

The changeability of Bush as a person is shown through his many names -- he's variously addressed (unless he's being called Mr. President) as Junior, W, George, Bushie, and Geo (like the small car), and those are just the ones I remember.

One of the pivotal scenes is the one in which W announces to his pastor, Earle Hudd, that he has gotten a call from God to run for President. Based on subsequent events, I think a lot of people would say that neither Bush nor his pastor examined sufficiently whether that call was from God or some other source.

I did think this film was well worth watching and will be useful in future for people seeking to understand the first decade of the twenty-first century.

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