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Oct 21, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: W.

Imagine Lorne Michaels wants to produce a comedy-laced drama. He has a virtually unlimited budget but instead of his cast of not ready for prime time players, he has all of Hollywood available at his fingertips. He hires an A-list director, picks as his target a lame duck president with but a few months left in office and off he goes.

That's pretty much what W. feels like. While we can watch Tony Hopkins play Nixon or Paul Giamatti play John Adams with nary a thought, the recency of Stone's subject puts the stench of "skit" on his film and it can't escape it, no matter how seriously he or his actors take it.

Most of them do. James Cromwell is all business as the senior Bush, only sounding like Dana Carvey for his first line delivered. Richard Dreyfuss is at his Machiavellian best as the brains behind Bush's two terms, and specifically the surge towards the Iraq War, the present day focus of the film. Scott Glenn and Jeffrey Wright were casting coups as Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, respectively, and Ellen Burstyn brings more character to Barbara Bush than 30 years in the limelight ever did. Elizabeth Banks is wasted in a non-role where she does little but vaguely resemble Laura Bush, while Thandie Newton makes out somewhat worse, getting just a couple lines as Condi Rice while having been "uglified" for the role. At least she's funny when she speaks, as she's asked to do so with prosthetic tooth and/or a massive overbite. And then there's ol' W himself...

Josh Brolin is all but unrecognizable as our current Commander-in-Chief, slipping so far into the characterization that he seems to out-Bush Bush at times. He's not going for Will Ferrell-type "strategerie," but that doesn't mean there aren't scads of laughs to be found, particularly when he masterfully pulls off W.'s sheepish/cocksure chuckle or tells Cheney that he, in fact and of course, "is the decider."

Such bon mots are the joys of W., and really all that it can be taken for. Whereas we can safely write off artistic license when a filmmaker does a bio on someone from centuries ago (after all, who are we to dispute the conversations between long dead faces?), that feat isn't so easily accomplished when all the subjects of the film are not just with us, but still in office (in most cases). How seriously can we take one of the many scenes between George W. and his father when we know damn well that none of the parties involved were involved at all with the film?

For what it's worth, Stone doesn't take advantage of that lack of accountability - or at least, it doesn't appear so. His is a sympathetic picture of our President, a man that we are stuck with now and in our rear-view mirrors, for better or worse. He paints G.W. as an occasionally bitter, often playful, frequently drunk schlub with aspirations beyond his intellect but nothing worse than the best intentions for himself and, eventually, his country. And that's probably nicer than I'd be to any President that still says "nucular."

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

10 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: W."

Dead Pan said...

I agree almost 100% with your review. I found Brolin perfect and the supporting cast pretty amazing as well. I also found Stone to be pretty even handed with the portrait of Bush that he portrays. He kind of lets his exploits speak for themselves. What I didn't like though was it's basic lack of any real depth. It tries with the W and Poppy daddy issues and Jeb the favorite son and so on, but it ultimately fails in this respect. At least it did for me. Anyways, I'll have my own review up soon. I might as well just copy and paste this comment.

Robb said...

You are a stronger man than I am. No way I could watch this movie, any more than I could watch either of the 9/11 movies. Maybe in 30 years. If I tried now I'd just be mad through most of it. lol

Nayana Anthony said...

I enjoyed W., though I didn't see Lorne Michaels in it as much as you did. I couldn't handle Thandie Newton... But I have to beg to differ with you on Elizabeth Banks. I thought she was fantastic. She was absolutely pushed to the background... but so is Laura, really.

And hey, how about Jeffrey Wright?

Patricia Perry said...

Nice review, Fletch. You pretty succintly capture the tone of the film. (and characterizing Bush as having "aspirations beyond his intellect" is dead on - for both the movie Bush and the real one!)

I'm with Nayana on Thandie Newton - her Condoleeza voice sounded weird and cartoony to me. Ditto for Jeffrey Wright, who neither looked nor sounded anything like Colin Powell. But those are minor quibbles. It was a damn entertaining movie, and Josh Brolin was fantastic.

Fletch said...

Shawn - It's true, there's not too much depth, but then again, the same could be said for Bush himself. ;) But seriously, I didn't have a problem with that. Stone chose an angle - the beginnings of the Iraq War and how Bush's youth and lead-up to the Presidency affected the decisions later made - and stuck with that.

Robb - haha. Yeah, I would have survived just fine having not seen this in the theater, as I too am sick of the man, but I have a much higher capacity for him when the portrayal isn't too positive (this, Fahrenheit 9/11, Maher, etc.).

Nayana - just because Laura is pushed to the background IRL doesn't necessarily mean she should have been an afterthought in the movie as well. They've been married for what, more than 20-25 years, right? Surely, she has plays a bigger role in his life than as a cheerleader. My point was, for such an insignificant role, why bother even getting Banks?

As to yours and Pat's points on Thandie - to be fair, Condi sounds pretty cartoony IRL.

As for Wright, I thought he was great as usual, capturing the spirit of Powell (or at least, of the role) without resorting to an impersonation (the same could be said of Cromwell and Dreyfus). Brolin, while giving a great one, was still essentially doing an impersonation.

Clive Dangerously said...

My biggest complaint was the humor side. You can have a drama without it being grim; there was no need to throw in the humor. I've got a Bush quote of the day calendar. I've heard those flubs before, as has everyone else. So to throw in "misunderestimate" and "Is our children learning" was totally extraneous. It killed the tone, which I thought was Daily Show/Michael Moore business aside, really engaging.

Nayana Anthony said...

I luuuuuurrrved Jeffrey Wright. He was my favorite part of the movie, actually.

PIPER said...

I thought Brolin did a great job as did Jeffrey Wright. Thandie seemed to play a caricature of Rice and it seemed strange.

Overall though, I was surprised at how boring this movie was. You can say a lot about Stone, but you can't say he's a boring filmmaker - except with this one. If it weren't for my faithful sweettarts I would have fallen asleep. And my wife did a couple of times.

And you can also say what you want about Bush, but you can't say that his 8 years have been uneventful. And yet this film didn't seem to cover too much ground from his term standpoint.

It seems that in Stone's quest to be not too one-sided, he delivered a movie that was too straight down the middle.

Anonymous said...

Josh Brolin did a convincing Dubya, though he reminded me a lot of his cowboy character from No Country for Old Men... over all, i don't doubt that 'W.' will have the effect Oliver Stone desired

Daniel said...

Really solid review here, Fletch. One of your best of the year, I would say.

I agree on pretty much all counts but Newton and Wright, who I was thrilled and disappointed by, respectively.

I think people will look back on this movie in 15 years and appreciate it more than most have right now.