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W.
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

It’s about the rise of a hopelessly failing student, a womaniser and drunken, boisterous George W. Bush (Brolin) to the presidency of the United States of America.

We see him first in a metal tub being hazed in a Yale frathouse membership, then in prison, drinking hard, consorting with floozies, loosing jobs, and chastised by his frustrated patrician father, Bush Sr. (Cromwell), who keeps pulling the strings for him to get him jobs and a place in Harvard Business School.

Upon his return to Texas, W. runs for Congress and loses. He is deeply hurt but encouraged by a smart librarian, Laura (Banks), who ends up becoming his wife, to try again and aim even higher.

In the mid eighties, W. is born again, trading the bottle for Jesus. He even helps his father, Bush Sr., to win the presidential elections in 1988. Then in 1994, in spite of his parents’ disapproval, he runs for governor of Texas and wins. And soon he sees a vision, where Jesus tells him to run for the presidency.

As we all know, he wins the White House in 2000 and after the September 11 attacks he, encouraged by his team, Dick Cheney (Dreyfuss), Donald Rumsfeld (Glenn), George Tenet (McGill) and Condi Rice (Newton), invades Iraq in order stop Saddam Husain from developing weapons of mass destruction and to spread democracy across the Middle East.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

W. is one of most controversial presidents of the United States, who is adored by his supporters and loathed by his opponents. In this film, Oliver Stone, entwining fiction with reality and jumping between past and present, creates a W. with many shades of grey and presents a relatively even-handed, restrained treatment of recent politics. However, the character lacks the depth and tragedy that we saw in Stone’s Nixon and JFK and instead, comes across as inept and comical.

In essence, this is a story about an aimless privileged son and a frustrated patrician father. Bush Sr. unceasingly chastises W. for his failings and inability to match to his younger brother’s success. However, protective of the Bush legacy, Bush Sr. never gives up on his heedless son and tenaciously keeps pulling the strings for him in order to push him forward. This is what eventually spurred W. to do something with his life and to prove to his father that he, like his brother, can also succeed. But even after winning the presidency, he is still tormented by his father’s shadow.

The film presents W. as an incompetent, reckless and insecure guy, who possesses a likable personality and determination to prove something. He is fortunate to be surrounded by intelligent people, particularly his wife, Laura, who propel him to the top and continue to do the hard work and the thinking for him, most notably during the discussion to invade Iraq. He just watches, almost like an outsider, as the warmongers Cheney, Rumsfeld and others bash Colin Powell, who argues for a more prudent course.

A large portion of the movie is dedicated to the Iraq war, which, I believe, is to the detriment of the picture for it detaches us from the close-up-and-personal feel. It also changes the tone of the movie and makes it look like a documentary.

W. is played brilliantly by Josh Brolin, who doesn’t imitate Bush but smoulders into his character and delivers a convincing physical approximation. The rest of the actors deliver arresting performances and present a decent likeness to the real people, particularly Richard Dreyfuss, who looks, physically and attitudinally, almost indistinguishable from the real Cheney.

After all, this is a film without an ending, for the story is still evolving, but it’s a fascinating study of W.’s psychological make-up, thoroughly entertaining and horrifyingly funny. It shows that contrary to the prevailing assumption, W. is not a blood and oil thirsty guy, he just naively seeks to promote “Freedom and Democracy” across the world and prove to his father that he can do it. The problem is he is not smart enough to be able carry out such a noble mission.

Opens Nationwide November 7th 2008

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