Oliver Stone’s W. is ‘best of’ collection of the key events in the life and presidency of George W. Bush, played here across four decades by Josh Brolin.
The film starts in 2002 as the Bush administration seeks a pretext to invade Iraq before jumping back to Bush’s frat pledge and from there it continues to leap (slightly randomly) between the recent past and Bush’s prior life.
Those who dislike America’s 42 President will revel in the run of slightly mocking portrayals Stone serves up. We get to see Bush the oilman failure, Bush the irresponsible young man who gets a girlfriend pregnant, Bush as he chokes on a pretzel and Bush as he declares that even he knows Iran and Iraq are two different countries.
But the film also largely succeeds in portraying George W as a man successfully living down to the low expectations of his family, especially George Bush Sr. (James Comwell). Bush Sr.
The soundtrack is really the main cue that the audience is invited to gently mock the administration and long shots of Bush and co walking across his ranch to the the old ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen…’ theme tune raised a big lauch from the preview audience.
The story suggests that unlike older brother Jeb, the Bush family have no real use for W. When he finally makes a decision to turn his life around and run for Governor of Texas Barbara and George Sr. openly deride him and make it clear that he’s spoiling the Presidential ambitions they harbour for Jeb.
Throughout the film only two characters show any real support or concern for Bush, wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and strategist Karl Rove (Toby Jones). He may be President but W’s world and circle of friends is shown to be pitifully small.
The portrayal of real-life people in movies can often fall into the trap of parody, here Stone has opted to cast actors who convey the essence of their subjects rather than offering outright mimicry.
Despite not really looking like the real Bush, Brolin is convincing in the main role with a good run of Bushisms and hinting at a charming side of the man barely seen by the wider world.
Special mention needs to be made of James Bond star Jeffrey Wright who excels as Colin Powell and Stone uses the flashback/forward format to good effect when he juxtaposes Powell and Dick Cheney’s advice to Bush Sr. not to push ahead to Baghdad after liberating Kuwait with Cheney’s gung-ho approach in the invasion of Iraq.
Wright does a good job at conveying Powell’s inner conflict between his duty to the American people, his personal experiences in the first Gulf war and his duty towards the President. Stone avoids directly commenting on Powell’s ultimate choice and uses him as the closest the administration has to a conscious.
Some of the reviews from the US have been less than positive but don’t let them put you off, this is a must-see for anyone who appreciates fine performances, good writing and smart direction.
W. arrives in UK cinemas on November 7th