Considering that at the time that I am writing this and while “W.” is hitting theatres, George W. Bush is still the president of the United States, is it unreasonable to ask if it is just too soon for a film biography of his life? Do we not need a little space in order to, first of all, get over the trauma of the eight-year long Bush administration, or more importantly, in order to gain some perspective on one of the most unlikely controversial figures in modern history? Lucky for us, the man behind the lens is Oliver Stone – a man who has never seemed to concern himself with objectivity to begin with. And I say lucky for another reason as well. We are lucky this movie has been made now because it actually allows for us to see a side of George W. that we’ve never really seen before – a sympathetic side. Sure the film is an entirely fictional imagining of the man but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make for good entertainment.
Stone’s “W.” is not a documentary – thankfully because I can’t usually stomach watching the man on television for more than five minutes. Stone is under no obligation to be fair or well balanced. Besides, even documentary filmmakers these days seem to use the truth and objectivity as loose guidelines. Still, when “W.” opens with a conversation amongst the upper echelons of the Bush administrative staff as to what buzz words and catch phrases would best sell the Iraq war to the American public, you can’t help but wonder whether Stone has zero intention of being fair or whether he intends to lambast the man. In fact, up until the moment the film began, the most intriguing thing for me about this film was trying to understand why Stone was making it in the first place. What was he going to say about him? How was he going to say it? It is right after this opening, which introduces us to most of the key players in this fantastic cast, that Stone, under the structure of Stanley Weiser’s script, takes us back to meet a younger George – a much less presidential George, if you will.
We get to see George as a college boy getting hazed. We get to see George quitting job after job after job with no direction in sight. We get to see George promising ladies the world but giving them nothing but heartache. But then we get to see another side of George. We get to see him face his alcoholism. We get to see him come to find his faith again. And we get to see him fall in love with a young lady named Laura. The manner in which it all unfolds is rather conventional but still also believable, thanks to a fiery Josh Brolin as the big guy himself. Brolin got me to root for a guy I would ordinarily hiss at (not that I hiss at that many people) and he did so by personifying the man as a regular guy with regular guy hang-ups. Weiser’s script does oversimplify Bush’s psychology by implying that all of his decisions in life have been motivated by the need to prove to daddy what a good boy he can be. Still, Brolin brings more to it than that; he brings both passion and compassion to man who is generally considered to be a monster.
Was it Stone’s intention for W. to be a George W. Bush puff piece? Not at all. Without forcing Stone’s hand, the plot does follow through Bush’s election into office and right up until the point where his administration realizes that the Iraq war was going to be a lot harder than they had anticipated. It is in the war room that Stone sneaks in his now signature controversial touch. Suddenly, it makes sense why he made this movie now and why it is being released just a few weeks before the American elections that will see Bush leave office. Once you understand why you’re watching it, you realize that it was actually a lot more enjoyable than you thought it would be and that Stone has crafted a good ol’ American movie as he sticks it to American government.
Review by Joseph Bélanger