W. (15)

Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stanley Weiser
Screening at FACT from 7th November 2008

Reviewed by Adam Ford

As George Walker Bush slumps out of office almost universally hated, with much of the American electorate believing they have just rejected everything he ever stood for in electing the much loved but little understood Barack Obama, we get the first Dubya biopic. So how has Hollywood liberal Oliver Stone portrayed the most despised man on the planet? Well, apparently he’s a basically well-meaning goofball kinda guy who’s had a really difficult job and sometimes feels that’s it’s all a bit too much. Cue tinkling piano and heart-rending pillow talk with Laura. Cry me a river.

Hardly anything important rings true. The major players – Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice are all here – behave exactly the same in private White House conversation as they do on the world stage, as if there’s no such thing as a ‘public face’ for politicians. It seems that Josh Brolin (as the President), Elizabeth Banks (as his First Lady), and especially Thandie Newton (as Condoleezza Rice) spent many hours getting impressions of their respective characters’ nuances and mannerisms down pat, without ever thinking about motivation. Toby Jones (as the man known as “Bush’s Brain”, the noxious Karl Rove), and Richard Dreyfuss (who seems to have been playing Dick Cheney all his life), fare better, but they are working with a dead script. Political junkies might notice that someone – presumably Stanley Weiser – has copied memorable quotes from the various characters’ speeches and crowbarred them into conversation. Is this all a joke, or are we trying to establish why major figures do the things they do?

But I forget; Oliver Stone has his reason why George done a bad thing. He was haunted by the long shadow of his ex-President father, and wanted to gain his respect, or outdo him, or both. But this isn’t anywhere near enough. And even by his own standards, Stone has failed. Speaking to the Guardian, the director summed up his film by asking "How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?" Unfortunately, W. leaves this question far from answered, because he has completely ignored social forces. Rewind eight years and we don’t see Bush – or rather the people behind him – stealing an election, though they actually did and it was really important and stuff. Those people clearly had their own agendas, and thought that they had found the perfect ”folksy”, “compassionate conservative” empty vessel to manipulate in their own power games. Still, Bush can’t be understood as an innocent out of his depth. In his own clumsy, bumbling way, he has played his part in the killing of hundreds of thousands, the impoverishment of millions more, and the virtual shredding of the United States Constitution, amongst countless other outrages against humanity and the environment. He is – and is set to remain – an obscenely wealthy man.

Sensing the US empire needs serious corporate rebranding, many of the same powers who backed Bush have placed their trust in calmly eloquent newcomer and now President-elect Obama. Meanwhile, a sadistic, murderous gangster exits stage right, leaving a trail of blood behind him. But then again, poor thing, isn’t he just a bit of a drunk who has issues with his “papa”? History will surely judge him more critically.

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