When a movie like W comes out, many would judge mainly by their political beliefs. The right wingers will think it hit Bush too hard. The left wingers will think it didn’t hit him hard enough. Now, I am going to keep my political beliefs (and my hatred for Bush) out of this review because I’m a film critic, not a correspondent for CNN.
I’m here to review W as a movie, and for its portrayal of Bush. On these grounds W succeeds. As a portrayal of man so layered its perplexing. As a portrayal of the politics of our times its fascinating. As a piece of art, it is entertaining.
Most people will think they know everything about Bush, thanks to 24 hour news and his speeches. However, W shows the audience what they already know, and so much more.
Josh Brolin takes on the role of the man whose led the free world for the past eight years. The film flashes between past and present and reveals the major players in Bush’s life throughout the years. The big one: his father (James Cromwell).
As a young man, Bush didn’t act like a future president. In fact, it was far from his goal. While McCain served his youth fighting for this country, and Obama made it onto Harvard Law Review, Bush spent his years at Yale getting drunk at Frat parties and occasionally ending up in jail.
“You’re a Bush, not a Kennedy,” Bush Senior tells him, “start acting like one.”
Those were the words that very well may’ve haunted Bush for the rest of his life from ‘ol daddy. Director Oliver Stone knows he can’t get into Bush’s head, but he does his best to show what exactly goes on inside of it without making him look like a complete fool.
During the rest of the movie, we see Bush quitting, and Bush persisting. We see Bush the alcoholic, we see Bush the hardworking owner of the Texas Rangers. In some ways, W can be qualified as a rise and fall story, but it has no end, as Bush’s reign still isn’t over. So, like There Will Be Blood, W is a rise story (the fact that they were both wealthy oilmen is a coincidence).
And how is it that a man with a drinking problem who could barely maintain a C average end up president of the United States. Well, that’s where daddy comes along, and pulls a few strings to get you into Harvard Business School.
With this point, Stone helps to build up some sympathy for Bush. He doesn’t use this point to say whether or not he was a good president but what exactly got him to be president, and the basis of many of his decisions. By the end of the film, it is hard to tell whether or not Bush was given a good or bad portrayal in the movie.
Take one of the final scenes, where Bush delivers a speech in front of a large crowd of reporters. He seems nervous, and can barely articulate a sentence, let alone a good response. Some may think this makes him look bad, but like the Palin parodies on SNL, his words are taken nearly verbatim. Yes, this man could barely justify his own actions to the media.
In this one scene, we truly see the brilliance of Brolin in the role. It’s not just an imitation of Bush, it’s an embodiment of him. Brolin shows that just copying someone’s hair and their voice don’t necessarily make you them. You have to go beyond. It is the mannerisms and tiny details of the person that can make you them. Brolin embodies Bush with the hand gestures he makes when he speaks, how he acts laid back by putting his feet on his desk while debating whether or not to attack Iraq, or how he licks his fingers constantly after eating. At times, you forget you’re looking at an actor. For this, I believe Brolin deserves to be a shoo in for an Oscar nomination.
Credit should also be given to Oliver Stone. He is known as one of the most outspoken Liberal filmmakers in Hollywood. His angry early works like Platoon and JFK displayed this. He had the chance here to tear the president apart limb for limb, but he makes the daring choice not to, and to instead portray him as he is. Only slight subtle mockeries can be seen. However, these are made mainly to get across the truth of the kind of leader Bush was. Did he really give, what Charlie on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia might call a “once over” to a packet that would allow certain forms of torture to terrorist suspects? Very likely.
Traces of Stone can be seen in the shaky camera angles and constant quick cuts. In many of his movies, this can create nausea and be ultimately unpleasant. In W, it works perfectly as a way to help us get a sense of the chaos of Bush’s family issues and his rise to power.
The power of W can be summed up in its opening moments; Bush stands alone in the middle of Arlington Field imagining being introduced as the president. It could be from years before he thought about running, or even a few days ago. What it does say is that Bush never would’ve made it alone. There was the constant feeling of being under the family name of Bush that put him to the top. It is interesting to think though that Bush never tried to take advantage of his name, but in fact felt cursed by it. He might not have ever wanted all of this power anyway.
W is that movie that stays with you. It dares to incite anger and confusion. It hopes the audience will be shocked, it will make you talk about it until answers are reached. Answers may never be discovered though. Only history will be able to tell whether Bush was a good president or a bad president. And like Bush says in the movie, “well, in history, we’ll all be dead.”
Whether he is one day determined as either the best or worst president America ever had, W says that no matter which side is taken, George W. Bush will go down as a man who forever changed this country.