Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: W. (**1/2)

Directed by Oliver Stone
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, Toby Jones, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Bruce McGill, Sayed Badreya, David Born, Dennis Boutsikaris, Jesse Bradford, Jonathan Breck, Rob Corddry, Charles Fathy, Chris Freihofer, Michael Gaston, Allan Kolman, William Lanier, Paul Rae, Randal Reeder, Jason Ritter, Jennifer Sipes, Noah Wyle.
2008--131 min.
Rated PG-13 (language including sexual references, alcohol abuse, smoking, disturbing war images)
Reviewed by The Teen Critic on October 17, 2008.

Oliver Stone's "W." is a curious creature. Taken on its own accord as a cinematic experience, it is interesting enough, but isn't it too early for a film about President Bush? Couldn't Stone have waited at least ten years before releasing it? Considering that Stone made the powerful, resonant "World Trade Center" in 2006, it is possible that "W." could have been better than the middling, meandering film it actually is.

George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) was always a partier in college, caught up in binge-drinking and such, never a true success in the eyes of his father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), and mother Barbara (Ellen Burstyn). He grows up in a family that believes in conservative values, in which illegal antics have no room. He doesn't act out what he claims to believe. As a young man, Bush is confused.

As an older man, who has already been governor of Texas and is now a President of the United States, Bush has no idea what he's doing. He goes to his cabinet, consisting of Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), George Tenet (Bruce McGill), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), and of course Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), who is a beacon of trust and information at his side, much like steadfast wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks).

Oliver Stone has gathered an ensemble that defies description, but for the most part the scenes with Bush are made out mostly to be very advanced SNL skits, with nothing taken that seriously. The performances are fair across the board, with Richard Dreyfuss a standout and Thandie Newton by far the worst, with her constipated facial expressions and voice inflections strangely reminding one of a long-lost sibling of the Joker.

That brings me to Josh Brolin as the misunderestimated man himself. Brolin is excellent in the role of Bush, so creepily believeable that I closed my eyes and heard the real Bush talking. In many ways, this is an embodiment every bit as believeable as Heath Ledger's Joker, if in an entirely different way. Brolin creates President Bush from the inside out. It's a grand, intimately drawn performance that is the best thing about the movie by far, but it just brings to undeniable light the weaknesses around him.

"W." meanders too much. It's too slow a buildup for what has to be one of the worst rush-job endings of the year (down there with "Hancock"). It's interesting for long periods, then boring for a short stretch, then marvelous, then comes the ending and splat. It's a slap in the face.

The fact of the matter is, "W." is too soon. Bush isn't the greatest guy, but neither is Stone. One can imagine a better (and less biased) director respecting the man for who he is. Stone has made it clear that he dislikes Bush, and Hollywood can't deny him his say. But did he have to make this movie right now?

As Bush would say, fool me once, shame on you...and fool me can't fool me again. Stone's playing the audience as the fools. But I'm not duped so easily.

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