The Bush we already knew
Oliver Stone’s biopic W. is uninspired
Does a film about a lame duck have to be lame itself? And when the lame duck’s path of destruction has been as extensive as this one’s has, isn’t something bolder and more consequential than Oliver Stone’s W. needed?
As it is, Stone’s movie portrait of George W. Bush comes off as a sketchy, half-baked combination of docudrama and biopic, a B-movie social drama with an A-movie cast, a dollop of TV-movie superficiality and more than a little of the cravenly opportunistic impulses of tabloid news, talk radio, etc.
Even if we weren’t in the midst of an anguished and exhaustive presidential campaign (and with or without the present economic calamities), you’d want a lot more than this movie delivers (if, that is, you cared to see it at all).
Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser frame their portrait as a composite of events past and present (which in this case does not extend much beyond 2004), and the pieces in their faux-serious puzzle seem as though they might have been drawn from some master list of the top 20 things you already know about George W. Bush. Onscreen in October 2008, the Stone/Weiser “Bushie” emerges as little more than an unfinished live-action cartoon, simultaneously too much, too soon and too little, too late.
The cast is a good one, on paper at least, but neither the casting of roles nor the acting itself is particularly good. Richard Dreyfuss (as Dick Cheney) and Stacy Keach (as the evangelist/enabler Earle Hudd) are particular stand-outs, and Toby Jones playing Karl Rove as a gerbil in heat may be the film’s one real coup in satiric terms.
But Josh Brolin (as W), Elizabeth Banks (as Laura Bush), James Cromwell (Bush Sr.) and Ellen Burstyn (Barbara Bush) all exude dignity and allure that are at odds with the script’s scattered pungencies and with too much of what has already been well-documented about the Bushes individually.
Scott Glenn (Donald Rumsfeld), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell) and Bruce McGill (George Tenet) all seem oddly miscast, and Thandie Newton (Condoleeza Rice) misses the mark in nearly every sense.
The film and its publicity make wry use of W’s well-known “misunderestimation” remark, but the blowback on that includes an impression that the slogan the movie actually earns for itself is something more like: “Misunderestimaton accomplished.”