Oliver Stone’s newest film takes a look at who George W. Bush is as a man and hints at who is to blame for our involvement in Iraq.
By Lance Braud
“W.,” Oliver Stone’s new film, is the “Boogie Nights” of presidential biopics. It is both a character study of our 43rd president, and a plausible explanation for how America ended up in Iraq. The film opens and closes with George W. Bush (W) basking in imagined glory of himself as a major league outfielder, an unrealized reality that both he and many people in the world might have preferred.
“W.” bounces between the recent past leading up to the second invasion of Iraq, and Bush’s personal development as he struggles for his father’s affection and approval.
The father-son relationship is what drives the movie, and W’s character. W attempts to be who his father wants him to be, and at the same time rebels against this expectation, leading W to become an alcoholic. Yet it is the alcoholism that partially frees him from his father’s shadow, by sending him into the arms of a Christian sobriety organization.
Stone’s version of George W. Bush is theatrical, impulsive, and short-sighted. His world is colored by the evangelical belief that the world is black and white, good and evil, and that good (“that’s us”) always wins.
This is the character that must decide how America will proceed after 9/11. During meetings in the White House and at W’s ranch, the closed-door case for Iran is laid out with its inevitable conclusion.
The film is slightly uneven, teasing us with an almost Dr. Strangelove scene of the genesis of “axis of evil” before settling into a serious treatment of W’s younger years.
A narrative arc fails to develop after W’s religious conversion however, and is replaced instead by what appears to be Stone’s finger of blame pointing at Cheney for Iraq, Tenet for falling asleep on the job, and an endorsement of Powell for president.
The casting is hit and miss. Josh Brolin as W does a fine job, and really carries the movie for its two hour length. Scott Glenn is spot on as Donald Rumsfeld. Thandie Newton as Condolezza Rice however, never really channels the Secretary of State, and at times is closer to the maid Florence from “The Jeffersons” sitcom.
“W.” is ultimately an explanation for a future generation on how America turned the corner the way it did at a pivotal moment in history. It isn’t the only explanation, but a plausible one. It’s also a warning that character matters, and we should be careful about choosing leaders that decide on gut reactions.