Thoughts on ‘W’ as Movie, History, and Politics

Posted on October 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Movie review from Dana Stevens of Slate:
Neither satire nor biopic, the film is a kind of secular pageant, enacting with dogged literality the well-known stations of the cross of Bush’s life: the 40th-birthday hangover-turned-religious-conversion! The near-asphyxiation by pretzel! Mission accomplished! “Is our children learning?” The moments scroll up the screen like the song titles on one of those greatest-hits collections advertised on TV. The movie is done in the broad strokes and primary colors that are Stone’s trademark–lest you’ve forgotten JFK, this is not a filmmaker of nuance–but the net effect is both satisfying and strangely cathartic to watch.W-poster-sml.jpg
My enjoyment of this film hovered perilously close to camp at times. Stone’s musical choices lay it on particularly thick: He accompanies a party scene during Bush’s drinking years with the Freddy Fender song “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and scores the fall of Baghdad to the marchlike rhythm of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” But if Stone’s portrait of George Bush is laid on with a trowel, maybe it’s because God seems to have engineered the real Bush’s life with a similarly crude sense of irony. W. is a case of biographer and subject being perfectly matched: You really don’t want a Bush biopic directed by Jean-Luc Godard (though Robert Altman could have done something interesting with it if he were still around). Like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, Stone’s George Bush gets his best lines straight from the source. This movie was scripted by screenwriter Stanley Weiser (Wall Street) but was ghostwritten by history itself.
Slate political columnist Timothy Noah talks about what they left out:
W. is the rare Oliver Stone film that had to tone down the historical record because the truth was too lurid. How the hell do you tell the uncensored story of a guy like George W. Bush? No one would believe it.
Stevens and Noah have a great conversation about the movie on the weekly “spoiler special,” which can be accessed via iTunes.


Critic David Edelstein says on NPR:
You know things aren’t going well for a Republican president when the best thing that happens to him in ages is a biopic by the famously left-wing Oliver Stone that depicts him not as reprehensible — as Michael Moore has — but as an earnest boy-man with daddy issues.
Let’s give Stone points for trying to get into the head of W, played by Josh Brolin: The film is more effective for its measure of sympathy. As in his biopics of Nixon and Alexander the Great, Stone comes not to mock but to dramatize the nexus of personality and great power. If nothing else, W is an honest effort. It’s too bad it’s lifeless — a rhythmless hash of flashbacks and tinny dialogue.
The President’s brother, Jeb Bush, did not like the movie:
The Oedipal rivalry is high-grade, unadulterated hooey,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told The Washington Times.
Several outlets fact-checked the movie, including MTV and the New York Post, which dryly noted:
Despite the director’s well-known lefty leanings, Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser have managed to make George W. Bush, dare we say it, sympathetic.

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