Every American has a very strong opinion about our 43rd president, George W. Bush. Whether you hate or love him, there is no denying that there are infinite interpretations of his last two terms in office. For this reason, viewers must take Oliver Stone’s new film “W.” simply for what it is — a cheap laugh and a disorganized interpretation of Mr. President’s psychological makeup and enormous unpopularity.
The film, beginning with a post-Sept. 11 cabinet meeting where the term “axis of evil” was coined, journeys through many facets of Bush’s life, including his partying ways, his role as an imperfect son, his experience as a born-again Christian and his transformation into a politician almost overnight. Not knowing what he wants to do in life until he later hears a calling from God, Bush is a consistent disappointment to his father. From drunken escapades to the invasion of Iraq, to finding no weapons of mass destruction, George W. cannot make his father – or anyone, for that matter – proud.
As the film loops in and out of college flashbacks filled with flirting and drinking, through the Iraq War-dominated presidency and back into his role as a disappointment of a son, viewers are left with an inconsistent and predictable plot. “W.” cannot get past its fascination with Bush’s psychological evaluation, failing to engage the audience with something deeper than a laundry list of dissatisfaction.
The fairness and accuracy of Stone’s interpretation remains questionable. In the process of portraying Bush as a sloppy disappointment, distasteful moments of pure mockery leave viewers uneasy. George W.’s conversion to Christianity is portrayed from a secular viewpoint; however, his moments of prayer, paired with flashbacks of heavy drinking, disrespectfully imply that his faith is fake. Almost everything that Bush says and does lacks intellectuality— like sitting on the toilet while talking to his wife, or telling his cabinet, “Iran is not Iraq and Iraq is not Iran, I know that.” While these things may be accurate, the reality of not portraying even a sliver of redemption creates an unreal character.
On the other hand, the cast of “W.” proves to be exceptional and consistent. From Josh Brolin’s performance as the president himself to Thandie Newton’s Condoleezza Rice, the actors have the physical tendencies down pat. With hours upon hours of researching the real Bush through videos, sound bites and recordings, Brolin eerily imitates George W. all too well. The eyebrow-raising, chuckling, heh-hehing and overbearing Texan tendencies that we are all familiar with make it very difficult to differentiate between the real and the fake Bush.
Unfortunately, the cast’s superb performance is not enough to make up for its shortcomings. Considering that the actors went before the cameras in May and that the film was rushed for release just before the November elections, perhaps a few extra months of production and smarter editing would have given way to a fresh perspective. To enjoy this movie at its maximum, viewers must remember that this is more of a comedy, intentional or not, than a real biopic. Although you may be left asking “Why?” after its unfinished ending, consider that maybe Stone has just as much insight into the President’s life as we do: little to none.