No matter what your political leanings, it is undeniable that George W. Bush is one of the most influential presidents in the history of the United States. Democrat, Republican, Independent or apathetic, it is impossible to ignore that this man has led our country through some of the hardest years in our history. Whether these hard times were any of his own doing, however, is debatable.
Right in time for the presidential election, Oliver Stone brings us “W.” a look into the life of Bush. What could have easily been a political heist flick about a faltering Brat Pack of our nation’s finest, “W.” focuses more on the man behind it all, and what made him who he is.
Starting off with his raucous days as a fraternity pledge at Yale, the movie follows a lovable screw-up trying to break out of the shadow of his father, only to do what his father could never accomplish.
Josh Brolin, coming off a phenomenal performance in “No Country for Old Men,” gives the performance of his career. Only a fistful of actors have been able to portray U.S. presidents, and Brolin gets to add his name to that list – and with a nuanced, genuine and unbiased portrayal to boot. While many have speculated about Oscar buzz for this role, it seems Brolin is more likely to grab the little gold man with his role as Dan White in the soon-to-be released “Milk.”
Another standout is Jeffrey Wright as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. During the course of the film, most notably during the war room scenes, Wright embodies a man fatigued by the pressure of always having to bear the burden of credibility – of being the voice of reason.
One that doesn’t fit so well is Elizabeth Banks. Her role as Laura Bush means Banks does nothing more than sit around with a vapid, silly grin on her face while giving her husband the occasional pat on the back.
Known for helming some of the most thought-provoking pieces on America, including “JFK,” “Wall Street” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” Stone’s “W.” offers nothing special or even remotely new. Having all lived through the Bush years, it tells the audience nothing more than what has been seen on the nightly news. Because of this, the film often feels tiresome and an exercise in reiteration.
At times, “W.” is so bent on being non-partisan that it glosses over or completely ignores large portions of the presidency. Missing are “My Pet Goat,” hanging chads, Katrina and Kanye. Instead we are left with about three too many scenes of Jr. and Sr. duking it out.
When a biopic is made, it is generally several years after the notable person has either passed away or is past their prime. History needs to shape these figures before a filmmaker can. Stone’s “Nixon” worked so well because it spun the mythology of Richard Nixon to a tragedy on a grand scale.
If this film was made about two or three decades down the line, it would be easier for Bush’s mythology to be shaped. Pieces of stories may fall to the wayside and the focus may shift to other aspects, but for now, “W.” doesn’t seem like a fitting tale of W.