Wednesday, October 22, 2008

W(hat, he worry?)

Oliver Stone's "W." doesn't probe as deep into the psyche of his subject as his "Nixon" does, but Stone makes the case--convincingly--that there is not much depth to probe.

Granted, there are some cartoonish elements, in particular the portrayal of Condoleeza Rice and a few obligatory scenes that don't add much to the film--the famed pretzel incident, for example. In a sense, it threatens to devolve into a "lowlights" of the Bush presidency, where every "misunderestimated" sentence spoken by the President is given a chance to air. Josh Brolin's protrayal, though, is spot-on. Sure it is a bit of a caricature, but what exactly have we seen over the last 8 years? Brolin takes Bush's voice and mannerisms and gives us a new look at him behind the cameras--a bit buffoonish, but just enough so to make him believable AND ridiculously funny.

But "W." is at its best where it really should be at its worst--lengthy staff meetings in the White House with the cabinet discussing war strategy. This ought to fail miserably, but instead these scenes are a fascinating portrayal of the various tensions and opinions that played out in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. In moments like these Bush seems completely out of his element--not a simpleton too stupid understand the issues, but a simple man with a very simplistic view of the world. When it all unravels, he just cannot understand why people don't appreciate him more.

There is little political context to the events that play out, although this is a part of the lead character's narrow world view. For example, there is almost no discussion of the Democrats role in the Iraq War, although we do get a scene of all the major Dem's--Clinton, Kerry, Dodd, Biden, and Kennedy--applauding Bush's State of the Union preceding the 2003 invasion. Junior's relationship with his Dad is similarly overplayed a bit in terms of understanding the man, though it is portrayed well with James Cromwell as "H.W.".

Finally, it must have been hard to write an ending, considering the timing of the release, but the one that was chosen was especially confusing and dissatisfying. Nonetheless, "W." maneuvers its way around a number of even larger pitfalls to make it well worth seeing.

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