Monday, 17 November 2008

No Stone Turned? 'W.' is a disappointment.

I assume that I’m not the only man, who when he pushes his choice of film for a prospective cinema visit, ends up squirming in his seat with an uncomfortable sense of personal responsibility when the movie turns out to be crap? Having expressed meaningful ambivalence toward ‘Easy Virtue’ and some manner of psychological examination of Kristin Scott Thomas in French, I particularly didn’t want Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ to be as poor as it was.

Quite honestly, Stone’s film is not a substantial biopic of the most controversial American president since Nixon. It is lightsome, simplistic, unconvincing and occasionally brutally poorly acted. The director never quite seems to decide whether he is attempting a serious examination or playing it for laughs. There is little sense here of what animates Bush as a politician. Instead he is portrayed as an innocent abroad, bumbling along through a series of ‘gut decisions’ (graphically illustrated by Josh Brolin who occasionally gives his belly a demonstrative pat when something especially gnarly arises), which lead him, first into the presidency and then into Iraq, as backroom neocons pull the strings.

Not that there isn’t a valid argument that Bush hasn’t been the most instrumental thinker behind his programme as president, but Stone’s portrayal comes close to absolving him of responsibility for decisions which were ultimately his alone. The executive process which takes the US into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq takes place in knockabout meetings in ‘W.’. Bush paces the room throwing out invitations to various advisers to offer their tuppence worth, pats his belly and then generally accedes to Cheney and Rumsfeld. Dramatically pleasing perhaps, but highly unconvincing.

Then there is the appalling depiction of Condoleezza Rice, inflicted by Thandie Newton, who twitches, grimaces and ahems in a nasal whine which brings to mind one of the nerdy kids in the Simpsons. Newton’s Rice would be lucky to get a job in Walmart, never mind becoming one of the most trusted members of a government administration.

Bush himself is played as a silly Texan charmer by Josh Brolin. Allusion to his age is made only by variable proliferations of grey in the actor’s hair, whilst Laura hovers around the late 20s / early 30s mark for the duration of the film. ‘W.’ drinks, carouses, crashes his car, fails to achieve gainful employment, pulls Laura, collapses whilst running, gets saved, gets ruthless, gets elected, becomes president, chokes on a pretzel. It’s just a sequence of events and not a serious attempt to get underneath its eponymous character’s skin. There is a running theme whereby George Bush Snr. feels disappointment in W. and he in turn resents his able sibling Jeb, but this is the nearest Stone comes to suggesting what might have motivated the outgoing President to strive for that post.

This is entertaining enough fare at times, but from a director who has produced substantial political films in the past, it is also disappointingly simplistic.


CW said...

When I saw your headline to this piece Chekov, I thought it was about Michael Stone - an artist of a thoroughly different kind of "performance art"!

To be fair, I didn't think the film was that bad. Brolin was the natural choice for the title role - from having played a greedy, ignorant, trailer park dwelling Texan redneck in "No Country" to a greedy, ignorant, White House dwelling Texan redneck in W. Although he didn't look much like Bush, he got the voice incredibly accurate. I agree that Newton's portrayal of Condoleeza Rice was highly irritating. Interestingly, one of the few characters portrayed with any sympathy was Colin - sorry Coe-lin - Powell. Dick Cheney was portrayed as a right bastard, and almost as if he called the shots rather than Dubya. Like almost any film i've seen that's based on real events I was left wondering just how accurate the events depicted were.

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