Double Ewe


My wife said yesterday, “let’s go see W. It’s gotten loads of positive reviews.”

“W.” MAY sound like the story of the initial that rocked the world, but it turns out to be the tale of a mouse that roared. Director Oliver Stone and writer Stanley Weiser’s unexpected take on the life and times of our 43rd president will surprise a lot of people, especially those not used to seeing the words “Oliver Stone” and “carefully modulated” in the same sentence.

“I’m sure they’re lying,” I offered, while agreeing to go. Reviewers would give good news on W. just because it’s an anti-Bush film, wouldn’t they?

Perhaps the crucial reason “W.” succeeds as much as it does is the surprisingly empathetic work of Josh Brolin, the American actor of the moment, in the title role. Against considerable odds, his George Walker Bush is a sympathetic likeness of an apparently sincere individual, someone who seems to mean it when he says, “All I want to do is make it a better and safer world.” Even if Stone had a more savage portrayal in mind, the quality of this performance won’t allow it.

This film is a live action cartoon. Brolin does an uncanny job of capturing the small things that convey the superficiality of who Bush is – the weird laugh, the smirk, the squint – but the film offers us nothing more than two dimensional imitation. We get to be with the characters, including Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney and Rove, but we never get to know them, or learn anything new about them. And the whole premise of the movie is an unproven supposition – that Bush is haunted by the desire to please his father.

What makes Bush the way he is, “W.” posits, is the drive of his life, the desire of the family black sheep to prove himself and get the approval and regard of his distant, patrician father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), the picture of sobriety and rectitude who is forever saying to his son, “You disappoint me, Junior.”

We know nothing more about any of the characters at the end then we do at the beginning – they have not changed as a result of the story as there is no opportunity for transformation. It’s a bit like watching the Three Stooges – no matter what happens in today’s episode, they guys will be back next time in the same developmental place they were at the last time. They are consistent characters who are dropped into different situations, coming away unevolved and ready for the next caper. The president seems tired and frustrated by the failure of things to go the way he’d expected, but we are given no indication that he is changed, or that he might do things differently given another chance.

But the key bond in “W.” is inevitably the one between the two presidents, father and son. It’s the father who gets the lion’s share of the good lines, at one point chiding his hard-partying son by saying, “Who do you think you are, a Kennedy?” Late in the film, the father even appears in the son’s bad dream, telling him, “You’ve ruined it, the Bush name, it took 200 years to build and you ruined it.”

The movie seems eager to capitalize on a business opportunity rather than committed to delivering the goods. The world is very interested in W, so business is brisk, even if Oliver Stone doesn’t deliver a very interesting film.

That’s a sentiment that unnerves the president and marks “W.” as a film not to be trifled with.

It is entertaining to watch, though I found my focus waning from time to time, but is a bit like having rice cakes for dinner. After all that chewing, your stomach doesn’t feel any more full.

What is surprising is that Stone allows Bush to emerge a sympathetic and likable guy – a man who, through no fault of his own, was born without the gifts required to carry the weight of the silver spoon.

2 Responses to “Double Ewe”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    If you watch SNL, it is so left wing, always has been, but this election year is different because I guess they can’t poke fun at Obama, that would be, umm, racist? The host last night was of course, Josh Brolin because of his movie W. For this liberal crowd (most of Hollywood) who hate George Bush so much, they are surley trying their best to capilalize on him.
    Sarah Palin was great and I really like Mark Wahlberg.
    The ads during this show make McCain look sooo bad. McCain should start running ads in that time slot too. This show has always been geared toward the younger crowd, so my words of advice…get some ads in there John McCain!

  2. 2 Dr Ted Baehr

    “W” shows hefty filmmaker Oliver Stone returning to his genius roots after making the terrible, propagandist WORLD TRADE CENTER. There are endless reasons to criticize President George W. Bush on his policies and performance from a conservative or practical viewpoint. Those expecting a serious historical drama will be pleasantly disappointed, because W. is actually an insightful, punch-pulled effort that teaches truth, and profound insights into politics and history.

    Basically, the movie opens in 2002 with an accurate look at a White House discussion concerning the President’s use of the term “Axis of Evil” in a major speech that year. The movie cuts back to his wild fraternity days in undergraduate college at Yale. From there, the movie takes Bush through conflicts with his father, who became the 41st president in 1989, his drinking, the meeting with Laura his future wife, his failed run for Congress, his commitment to Jesus Christ with a Texas pastor, the work he did on his father’s two campaigns for president, and his decision to run for governor of Texas. Interspersed with this biography are scenes featuring only a few of the tremendous mistakes Bush and his administration made in Iraq.

    In almost every scene, the movie makes these historical events, and President Bush, look as bad and stupid as they possibly can. Of course, this is merely an accurate reflection of what actually happened! The performances of almost every one, especially Bush, Secretary of State Condi Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and General Tommy Franks, are performed like perfect imitations. Even some re-creations of Bush’s speeches look as silly than they actually were! Of course, the movie had no source of “stirring parts” in any of Bush’s stumbled speeches, especially his early ones after 9/11. Nor does the movie mention how Bush’s support of greedy corporate interests turned the economy into utter shit after President Bill Clinton left America with a tremendous surplus; or Bush’s complete lack of success in crippling Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist group, Al Qaeda, anywhere in the world.

    The movie contains one frightening scene where Bush gets help from a caring Christian pastor, presaging his transition from failed businessman and cocaine addict into a truly dangerous “fundie” President.

    Finally, W. presents many insights into President Bush’s socio-political philosophy that arguably makes him the most politically schizophrenic conservative/liberal leaders in American history. Unfortunately the movie does not mention Bush’s connection to ENRON criminals, the Bush family connections with the Saudi-based Bin Laden family, Prescott Bush’s money-laundering for Nazi Germany, George W sitting on his hands while 9/11 raged in New York, George W letting black people drown in New Orleans, or how Laura Bush killed a fellow student in a car crash in college.

    Only an ignorant and hateful conservative and Evangelical Christian, or all the ignorant, uninformed American citizens who voted Bush-Cheney in 2004, would dislike this near-perfect insight into GW Bush’s life! Oliver Stone clearly wants the United States and its citizens to achieve victory in the November 2008 elections, and sweep away the Bush-Cheney years by refusing Old Man McCain the chance to ruin America with “four more years”.

    Right-wing tyrants in the mass media, like us at MOVIEGUIDE, are pulling out all the stops to re-write history and pretend that George W Bush has not been a complete and unmitigated intellectual abortion. If the American people continue to accept this mindless, biased Republican party leadership so docilely, then we deserve another 9/11.

    Dr. Ted Baehr
    Christian Film & Television Commission

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