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W (2008) Director Oliver Stone 13 November 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Oliver Stone is a film maker who I love. Platoon, Wall Street, JFK were landmarks of late 80’s/early 90’s political film making but I’ve always had a soft spot for the brilliantly over the top Natural Born Killers. I even quite liked Alexander. In fact the only Stone film I do not like is World Trade Centre, it’s an amazing story no doubt but Stone works best when he skirting on the edge of controversy and with W it sounded like Stone was back on track.

To a certain extent he is, but compared to practically every other film in his resume W is suprisingly tame given the opportunity to bring to task one of the most widely reviled Presidents in American history.

The film chronicles certain elements in Bush’s life, college, work, his first forays into politics and the lead up to the Iraq war but almost entirely omits every other element of Bush’s time in power. 9/11 barely gets a mention, neither does the 2000 Florida voting controversy, both areas crucial to how we see Bush today but largely ignored by Stanley Weiser’s script. That is understandable, W doesn’t try to chronicle Bush’s life. Instead it chooses as its premis the notion that George W constantly lived in the shadow of George H W and this manages to sustain two hours 10 minutes of screentime.

The plot itself therefore is underwhelming, giving a sketch of a man but leaving huge gaps which leave the viewer with the sense that the good stuff is missing. The film is a borderline comedy. Bush (as portrayed by an excellent Josh Brolin) is depicted as the buffoon we’ve all come to hate over the past eight years and his cabinet consists of caricatures so broadly drawn it’s hard not to raise a smile during the vaguely farcical meetings of cabinet. This stands in contrast to what is actually being discussed in these meetings, which is about as sombre as it gets (lying about the existence of WMDs) and often manages to provide an emotional gut punch entirely unexpected.

The cast is hit and miss. Your like or dislike for the performances will largely depend on how much pantomime characterisation you can tolerate. Brolin is faultless as Bush, as is James Cromwell as Bush senior; but Thandi Newton’s portrayal of Condoleezza Rice is just plain weird while the rest of an extremely talented cast are mostly wasted in very small supporting roles. Jeffrey Wright was the only other stand out performance for me, probably because his Colin Powell is the only other character given a sub-plot with any kind of emotional resonance.

The main proble with W is that it just feels rushed. It was made in an unbelievably short time frame (Brolin was cast in January this year) and it shows. The story fells rushed and nothing of the sort of deconstruction (or should that be destruction) of the Bush regime we were all hoping for. Stone needs to get back to real political film making and fast.

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