Sunday, February 22, 2009

W. Grade C

W. (2008)
Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton. Director Oliver Stone.

The impressions were the most fun in this docudrama biography of George W. Bush. Brolin, as GW Bush, had the voice and gestures down cold. I totally believed him. Condi Rice was near perfect (Newton) and so was Dick Cheney (Dreyfuss). Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) was the least convincing, not only because the look was not close, but the speech and gestures weren’t either, nor was the character’s persona (compared to what we saw in public). One couldn’t expect 100% on the impersonation front, but the result was highly variable.

Beyond interesting impersonations though, what was the point of this movie? It documented, with restraint and respect, Bush’s early wild years of alcoholism, aimlessness and dissipation, and his rise to the presidency. But we never got a sense of who he was. Why was he wild and self-destructive? Was he jealous of brother Jeb? Oppressed by Poppy Bush? These were suggested in the dialog but there was nothing revealed through the character’s behavior. To show who a character is, you put him in the vise grip of a situation and watch how he reacts and that’s how you know who he is. But this movie didn’t do that, and I did not come away from it thinking I had any more insight into W. than before. One day we see him at an AA meeting, but we don’t know why he is there. There was a suggestion that he had a really bad hangover and that’s what made him change, but that hardly seems a compelling explanation.

One day he collapsed while jogging and looked up at the treetops, and after that he became a born-again Christian? What? So it is throughout the movie. He marries Laura. Why? No clue. He decides to run for congress, then Governor. Why? Don’t know. Things happen, and they are shown. But nothing is explained. The same is true for the other players, such as Powell. He objects and is even sullen during the discussion of WMD’s in Iraq, but next we see him at the UN giving his famous false PowerPoint. Why? No explanation is suggested.

There is also little dramatic tension in the film, and not just because we know how everything turns out. This script doesn’t know if it is a documentary or a drama and it comes up neither. There is plenty of intrinsic drama in the GW Bush story, but it is not captured. Even if Bush was not smart enough, or not introspective enough to understand the conflicts inherent in his personal and public life, the filmmaker surely should have been. Since there is no story and no character development, all the acting talent is focused on doing impressions, and some are better than others.

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