“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 2008 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Oliver Stone / Actors: Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, Ioan Gruffudd, Toby Jones ... / DVD released 2009-03-16 at Lions Gate Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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In 2008, Oliver Stone, film agitator extraordinaire, turned his attentions to (allegedly) America's Dumbest President George W Bush. Most people expected a vicious condemnation of the Bush years, a harsh political satire that would leave the man and his supporters bristling with righteous indignation.
Sadly, it seems that Stone is finally going soft in his own age. Instead of a deliberately provocative portrayal of "Junior", we get a tame political biopic that steers well clear of controversy and paints Bush as an essentially honest man lead astray by his eeeevil advisors. If you didn't know better, you might actually think this film was commissioned by Bush himself to try and influence history's view of him. Stone, the political firebrand and left wing agitator is virtually nowhere to be seen.
At least there is some imagination shown in the way Bush's life is presented. Rather than simply being a chronological depiction of events, the film mainly focuses on his first term in The White House, with flashbacks to his early life at various points. This is a satisfying and effective way of handling the tale and Stone presents it well. Flashbacks are not so frequent so that they leave you feeling disorientated; at the same time, they give you plenty of context, helping you understand the influences on his life and the impact they have on some of his decisions in later life.
At its heart, W is driven by strong performances from an excellent cast. Leading the way is Josh Brolin turning in an incredible performance as The Prez. Despite bearing more of a (facial) resemblance to The Governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Brolin is highly convincing. He's particularly effective as the older Bush even as young Frat Boy George, Brolin nails the voice, the mannerisms and the attitude perfectly. At times, you could almost close your eyes and believe you are listening to the man himself, not an actor doing an impersonation.
Following close behind is James Cromwell as George Bush Snr (or "Poppy" as he is affectionately known to his sons.) Whilst Cromwell makes little attempt to imitate Bush (either physically or vocally), he nevertheless manages to capture the essence of the man; his outlook on life, his influence and impact on his sons and his slightly cold, emotionless overly analytical take on everything. The constant disappointment of Snr. with his son and Jnr's constant need for the approval of his father provide a central dynamic and is well enacted by Brolin and Cromwell.
If the two central performances are strong, they are backed up by some of the "lesser" characters. Particularly outstanding are Richard Dreyfus as Dick Cheney and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. Both turn in their best performances for many a year and, like Brolin and Cromwell absolutely inhabit the spirit of the people they are portraying. Scott Glenn is similarly strong as the slightly sleazy, calculating Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld, whilst Elizabeth Banks, (although scarcely featuring) also stands out as Laura Bush, portraying her as a tower of strength to her husband. Only Thandie Newton (as Condoleeza Rice) struggles, partly as the result of a very underwritten part, partly because she seems out of her depth amongst such illustrious company.
Yet impressive though these performances are, I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed by the content. When I heard that Oliver Stone was directing a film on America's most recent ex-President, I expected wild conspiracy theories, searing condemnation and political satire by the bucket load. After all, this is the man who directed JFK, Platoon and Wall Street. Sadly, it seems as though Stone has mellowed in his old age and is no longer interested in being at the centre of a media storm. As a political satire or as a left wing deconstruction of Jnr's reign, "W" stands for "weak".
Even when Stone focuses on the Iraq War and the controversy over the (non) discovery of Weapons of Mass Destruction, there is little real impact. Stone meekly portrays Bush Jnr. as a President who was badly advised, who believed what he was told and acted upon mis-information. At best, it's a minor slap over the knuckles and a slight reprimand that perhaps the President ought to have investigated the facts a little more carefully before committing to a long-term invasion of another country. I expected a long tirade, a condemnation of Bush Family Politics, a vicious dissection of Gulf War II as little more than the conclusion of unfinished business and proof to "Poppy" that George W really was a chip off the old block. There are vague nods in this direction, but I expected so much more from Stone.
The condemnation of the Iraq War weak and ineffectual and this is made worse by the fact that Stone focuses on it for so long, ignoring other, equally controversial elements of W.'s tenure. There's no consideration of the "hanging chads" fiasco which saw Bush elected to the White House under deeply suspicious circumstances and virtually no reference to September 11 (other than as a justification for the Iraq war). These were all key events that defined W.'s first term, yet If you hadn't lived through them yourself, you would be blissfully aware of their existence on the basis of this film.
I have no problem with biopics which focus on a short period in the overall lifetime of its subject (Scorcese's excellent The Aviator did the same thing) or ones which focus on single issues... but they need to make something of those elements. W. is so toothless that it almost feels like an apology, a justification of the Bush regime. Love him or loathe him, there is much to be made of Bush's reign in the Whitehouse, but this feels like a weak, spineless love letter.
Strong central performances are nowhere near enough to save this. As a straightforward biopic, it barely rises above "TV Movie of the Week" stuff and will certainly add nothing new to the basic knowledge most people have of Mr W. As an incisive debate on the rights or wrongs of Gulf War II and the invasion of Iraq, it's toothless and vague; as a political satire, it's disappointing and weak. If you didn't know about Stone's political beliefs, on the basis of this film you would have him down as Bush's Number One Fan.
Director: Oliver Stone
Running time: approx. 129 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011
Directed by Oliver Stone and starring Josh Brolin as George W Bush (43rd US President).
Released in November 2008, the week of the presidential election (although Bush himself was not running).
Brolin plays George Dubya Bush very well and having seen him in No Country For Old Men, Milk and American Gangster as well, he is a fine actor who makes you believe in the character. Obviously here he plays a role that almost everyone on the planet knows but still gives a fine portrayal. He reportedly rang hotel reception desks in Texas to speak to the reception clerk in his quest to perfect his Texan accent for the part. He also studied video of Bush to perfect his walk which changed over time. Here Brolin plays college age Bush and also President Bush.
Oliver Stone as ever does a good job, he worked on the script himself. His track record includes other films such as Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born on the 4th of July, Nixon and one of my personal favorites JFK, among many others. Here he deals with the subject matter fairly I think (given that he was an outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq in 2003), although the film is basically a biography.
Brolin is the central actor, not surprisingly, and gets good support from the excellent Richard Dreyfuss as Vice-President Dick Cheney. James Cromwell plays George Bush senior, but I didn't find his role convincing. I personally find Cromwell tends to play the same role whatever he's in and when you are playing the part of a historic real life character then I think you need to try and be that person. I wasn't convinced, for one thing he was too tall. Other actors involved are Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. I wasn't convinced with her performance either, although she obviously tried to be the person she was playing, there was no depth of character at all and the character was just a bit part that could have been played by anyone or a dummy. Jeffrey Wright played the role of Colin Powell, the much respected former army general, and although Wright gamely tries to come to terms with the character, I think he falls short.
The film itself focuses on key events in Dubya's life and run-ins with his father George Bush senior, the 41st President. Undoubtedly born into a life of privilege which allowed him to drink heavily and constantly change jobs and not suffer the consequences, he did get to Harvard and made a career in business for himself. His real love was baseball, although he couldn't play. Subsequently he decided that politics was where his natural talents should take him and when he stopped drinking became a born-again Christian.
The key drama surrounding the invasion of Iraq forms the most compelling section of the film as the cabinet meet to decide if they have enough justification to invade, ultimately deciding yes. Subsequently the slow withdrawal of troops and the deaths of coalition soldiers brought about the defining moment of his presidency, when facing a press conference the normally affable and talkative Dubya falters and is unable to answer questions coherently. Like the character in the Fast Show who during social occasions constantly puts his foot into it with an embarrassing remark, Dubya looks like he should say 'I'll get my coat then'.
I found the film interesting but not brilliant. It is difficult for me to feel sympathy for a man that although he managed to defeat the demon drink did have so many advantages starting in life. Ultimately though, he relied on people around him to give him information to make decisions, something that his character makes clear during the film when talking to Vice -President Dick Cheney at lunch (although Cheney appears to have other ideas about this). That he was given the wrong information about Weapons of Mass Destruction is clear, that Saddam Hussein fooled the world into believing he had the capability of WMD and expected the bluff to work, is the tragedy.
Well-made film. Generally good acting. 6/10
Rarely Is The Question Asked,'Is Our Children Learning?'
George W Bush was a very controversial President. When America is attacked on the infamous September 11th attacks in 2001 the world changes and a war on terror is declared by the administration and it's allies, including of course Britain making him a hate figure for many.
This film is a look at his earlier life and presidency.
Oliver Stone has a history of making films about US Presidents, in the past he has made JFK and my favourite Nixon. It seemed almost inevitable
that he wouldn't be able to resist taking a good look at George Bush. I was impressed with Nixon and JFK, I know that there are no doubt some
inaccuracies in both but I found them both very entertaining so I was expecting something along the same lines. In Nixon there was a feeling of
darkness and mystery that gives the film depth, but Bush is such a shallow person in life (or that's how he comes across in public at least)
that to make anything as compelling is difficult.
Unfortunately I was disappointed. I found the film to be hollow, and started to lose interest about half way through. It's not the performances that let it down, I think on the whole they were very good. The 2001 terror attacks are thankfully not exploited by Stone with presidential events being portrayed generally after the event, concentrating on the planned invasion of Iraq. Probably the most interesting scene in the entire movie is a meeting where the motives for the war in the middle east are revealed (Stone's assumed motives).
Josh Browlin who I find very watchable in most things is very good as Bush, he doesn't look all that much like him but gets his mannerisms down well,
must as Anthony Hopkins does in Nixon. James Cromwell plays his father and previous president George HW Bush, he again kind of looks like him and
gets the mannerisms down quite well, if not as well as Brolin. Even Tom Hank's son Colin gets a role here, although I didn't realise who he was when I first watched it.
The best performance in terms of getting the likeness nailed has to be Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. He get's the look and mannerisms down just right, especially the hunch. Jeffery Wright does a good job as the downtrodden Colin Powell.
I think the biggest mistake Stone has made with this film is making it too soon, not enough time has passed to evaluate Bush Jr's legacy and therefore it comes across as a self indulgent swipe at Bush and his administration. The strangest thing about the film for me is the ending, or lack of one, it just seems to end. Thinking back I can sort of understand ending on one of Bush's bumbling moments, but this makes the film appear too one sided. If you want something entertaining about George W bush then just watch the shoe thrower video on youtube or many of his "Bushisms" they still make me laugh.
Main Cast List
Josh Brolin - George W. Bush
Toby Jones - Karl Rove
Dennis Boutsikaris - Paul Wolfowitz
Jeffrey Wright - Colin Powell
Thandie Newton - Condoleezza Rice
Scott Glenn - Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Dreyfuss - Dick Cheney
Directed By : Oliver Stone
Running Time : 129 Mins.
Certificate : 15
This is a film produced and directed by Oliver Stone and released in 2008.
As someone with a keen interest in American politics over the last 10 years and a strongly democratic leaning, I was interested to see this 'biographical' film about the presidency of George Dubya Bush. I have to say although its an enjoyable kind of romp it didn't do anything especially good for me.
Well - basically this film covers the life of W from the age of 18 as he starts out at University as a typical american 'jock', fails to make his father (the other George Bush Snr) proud, is arrested for disorderly behaviour and being drunken quite a lot.
He seems to fail at pretty much everything, quitting jobs and making his father angry until at the age of 40 he becomes a born again christian,
focusses on politics and sorts out the relationship with his dad who then asks for his support on the campaign trail as he runs for president. The rest, as they say is history and we eventually come to the more familiar events of his own presidency.
Josh Brolin - George W Bush
James Cromwell - George Bush Snr
Elizabeth Banks - Laura Bush
Ellen Burstyn - Barbara Bush
Richard Dreyfuss - Dick Cheney
Jeffrey Wright - Colin Powell
Thandie Newton - Condoleeza Rice
Scott Glenn - Donald Rumsfeld
If you are interested in the story of Bush's life and ever wondered why he is the way he is then this is an entertaining and pretty amusing look at the way his life has been shaped and the role of alcohol and god in equal measures has made him the man he is. The relationship between father and son is also very interesting and whilst this is of course a film, at the end of the day, it is based on real events, even if, in parts, the correlation may be loose.
I found the portrayal of Bush by Brolin to be pretty spot on and enjoyable, I actually think he made a better job of it than Christian Bale (originally cast in the part) could have done and certainly the physical similarities are closer between Brolin and Bush than I imagined they would be.
Brolin also has the mannerisms down to a tee, in as impressive a portrayal as something Michael Sheen would be proud of and for me this made the film quite believable and particularly touching in parts and amusing in others. I hate to say it but this portrayal did (at times) make me fee a certain sympathy for Bush in his obvious need for his fathers approval and desire to outdo his brother Jeb.
The accent is very good to on Brolin's Bush, but I have to say most of the parts with whom I am pretty familiar (Condoleeza, Powell and Cheney as well as both Bushes) the voices were particularly well imitated. I really liked and admired Wright's Powell and Elizabeth Banks' Laura too, both these portrayals were true and accurate to me - or at least how I imagine them to be.
I liked the ending to this film which I felt was quite poignant and an interesting way to do it, I do not want to spoilt it for you but lets just say that it takes the older version of Bush back in a full circle and is quite clever.
This film is a little lightweight and not as hard hitting as I expected it to be. I don't really know why but I assumed this film would be a little more serious than it actually was and whilst I enjoyed the comedic elements I think I was looking for something this film did not offer - a focus on his flaws and failings as a president, not as a man.
Thandie Newton was not good (in my opinion) as Condoleeza Rice and was certainly the weakest portrayal in terms of physical impersonation which was a shame. I do not really like the woman in real life and in film this did nothing to change that.
I did think that this film seemed to sensationalise on some things (like the alcoholism and the radical turning to religion) and I was disappointed to find out that Stone did not liaise with the Bush family at all prior to making this film, which makes me wonder how much of what is in it is based on primary sources and how much is pieced together from second and third hand accounts.
I think you have to take this film for what it is and remember that whilst based on the life of Dubya it is, at the end of the day, largely an interpretation of events and unlikely to be accurate to any high degree.
It is, however, very enjoyable and easy to watch and Brolin in particular manages to do the impossible and engage the viewer in Bush's struggles and everyday obstacles whilst making him seem almost loveable.
For anyone with an interest in the subject this is certainly worth checking out - just do not expect a literal or factual dissection of the man or his presidency.
Run time: 129 mins
Available to rent on Lovefilm now or for less than a fiver on Amazon.
Note: originally written for my review website, ShaunMunro.co.uk, thanks!
Oliver Stone is certainly one of the most divisive filmmakers of our generation, his numerous political polemics (Nixon, JFK) seeing jubilation and outrage in equal measure. Stone's last work - World Trade Center - saw him buck this trend, crafting a piece that, save from meting out any political agenda or ideology, was merely a tribute to the lives lost on September 11th, and in many ways, his latest film, W., is a companion piece to that film.
W. marks a change of temperament for the controversial director (given his very public derision of Bush); in chronicling the life and times of George W. Bush, Stone has aimed to remain impartial, creating what he terms a "fair, true portrait of the man". As much as it may therefore disappoint Bush haters, Stone has crafted a restrained and balanced film that concedes Bush's myriad mistakes, yet channels a resolute sense of humanity through Josh Brolin's exceptional, Oscar-calibre performance.
Intercutting present-day Bush with flashbacks of his formative years, Stone effectively captures the key moments in Bush's life, from his years of alcohol abuse, to his tumultuous relationship with his father (played by James Cromwell), as well as his romantic life with his wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), his conversion to Christianity, and ultimately his political ascent.
Stone's primary goal here, surprisingly enough, appears to be to humanise Bush, and largely, he succeeds. Stone is fair to note Bush's mistakes, yet balances this with demonstrating the difficulty of his job, both in terms of competing with his ever-squabbling cabinet, and subsequently having to decipher their squabbling into something tangible the American people can understand.
With a lesser cast, W. could very well have malformed as an unintentional comedy (as the marketing initially suggested), yet Stone's immaculate roster gives this film unremitting buoyancy. Of the supporting cast, James Cromwell delivers a typically reliable performance as George H.W. Bush, whilst Richard Dreyfuss is almost unrecognisable in his superb turn as leering Vice President Vick Cheney. Particular mention must also go to Thandie Newton, who, in portraying Condoleezza Rice, remains the film's prime source of comic relief. Jeffrey Wright also demonstrates his acting chops beyond the role of Felix Leiter in the "new Bond" series, and in playing the role of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is easily the most instantly recognisable of Bush's cabinet, accurately replicating the man's presence (as well as his grey hair). In fact, the only unsure or misplaced piece of casting in the entire film is Ioan Gruffud as Tony Blair, yet this scene is brief and none too-distracting from the rest of the picture.
Josh Brolin, however, is the unqualified reason to see W. - whilst he may not physically resemble Bush, even beneath a keg of makeup, he subsumes every other visually and aurally attainable element of Bush's essence. Brolin came to prominence last year with a number of high-profile roles (Planet Terror, In The Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men and American Gangster), and in W., Brolin well-and-truly falls through the glass ceiling, giving a performance that is certain to garner him his first "Best Actor in a Leading Role" Academy Award nomination.
Brolin's performance also benefits largely from Stanley Weiser's sharp script, which is chock full of witty one-liners that cement Bush's "Southern charm", and for the most part, the political hyperbole is kept to a comprehendible minimum. Weiser's characterisation is nuanced and fair (even making sure to include the infamous "Pretzelgate" incident), although W. sorely lacks a present context - a post-office moment in which he reflects upon his term of Presidency (as is perhaps the result of rushing the film's release to make award season).
Oliver Stone's middling stance will inevitably cause much frustration, and one must ask why he did not wait until Bush had left office to add a much-needed coda sequence to the picture. W. is also replete with a healthy dose of visual allegory pertaining to baseball (as reminiscent of the religious imagery in World Trade Center), which is likely to divide audiences, given its spoon-fed, seemingly unnecessary simplicity. Thus, whilst imbued with a certain inertia, W. is a witty and surprisingly sympathetic document of the most-maligned President of modern times that benefits from chameleonic performances from an electic cast.
Directed by the often controversial Oliver Stone, 'W.' documents the life of former American President George W. Bush (played by Josh Brolin).
Jumping around in terms of its narrative, the film depicts various aspects of the young Bush's life, from his frat days, to quitting his first job at an oil field, and meeting future wife Laura at a barbeque - these background scenes serve to familiarise the viewer with our subject matter, and in some examples help explain 'Dubya's' actions in later life.
On the whole, 'W.' seems to be well researched and thorough. The background scenes I spoke of in the previous paragraph are shown both in the form of recreations, and in some situations with computer green-screen work. One example of this features in the scene where Bush pilots a plane onto an aircraft carrier and makes an address from there - here, the actual news footage remains, but Brolin is imposed over the real George Bush in order to provide the movie with some continuity.
Remember the infamous pretzel choking incident? - that's recreated, and so are a lot of other incidents (including examples of Bush's notorious word-jumbling) which were reported by the media, and seen by the world during the Texan's overlong time in office.
A lot of the movie deals with Bush's relationship with his father George "Poppy" Bush, who is beautifully played by James Cromwell. Dubya doesn't quite live up to the respect his father holds for his two brothers, and the film hints at the fact that Bush jnr is running for President to gain the respect of his father.
Josh Brolin is very impressive as 'Dubya' - he's certainly got the voice down to a tee, and as a result of his well crafted hair and make-up, he generally looks like him too. He plays the role in a straight manner with isolated comedic elements, and his performance is generally top-notch.
A pretty much unreconiseable Richard Dreyfuss puts in a sterling performance as Dick Cheney, who is seen manipulating the easily led Bush throughout the film. He is certainly the most demonised character, and if the movie has to have a 'baddie', then Cheney fits the bill (and perhaps quite rightly so).
Arguably the weakest of the performances was Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condoleeza Rice, which didn't seem very convincing at all. Her facial expressions were odd to say the least - entertaining yet overused caricatures of the real thing. To be honest, I didn't realise it was the usually glamorous Newton until near the end of the film, when it suddenly dawned on me.
In general, the film depicts George W. Bush as being an easily lead individual whose heart is in the right place. In fact, the man is portrayed as a decent human being who, albeit a little slow, is shown to be acting on his morals. It actually feels like the director has gone a little too easy on him, and made him the hero of the piece - which many people will find quite irritating (myself included).
The overall feeling gained from the movie is a general unease with the U.S - how did a man so lacking in intelligence gain such a high office? - a man who is shown in some instances relying on religion (in the guidance of his southern preacher friend Earle Hudd) to make his decisions for him.
If you have any interest in politics, or even a fascination with 'Dubya' then this film may be of interest to you. As a movie, it is entirely watcheable due to its well written script and on the whole decent performances by the actors. That said, the final quarter does drag a little and some viewers may lose patience - recommended nevertheless.
- - - - - - - -
Elizabeth Banks - Laura Bush
Josh Brolin - George W. Bush
Colin Hanks - Speechwriter
Thandie Newton - Condoleezza Rice
Stacy Keach - Rev. Earle Hudd
Richard Dreyfuss - Dick Cheney
Ioan Gruffudd - Tony Blair
You can purchase the DVD version of 'W.' for £11.98 from Amazon.