January 3, 2009

Misunderestimated



I went to see W. on New Year's Day, expecting a hatchet job from Oliver Stone. While not exactly flattering, it was still a sympathetic portrayal of our outgoing President. It showed him in his ne'er-do-well, boozing, womanizing younger days, constantly seeking George H.W. Bush's approval (played intimidatingly by James Cromwell, who didn't even try to do the voice. Even I was afraid of crossing Poppy Bush!). The early days are interspersed with Cabinet member meetings in the lead-up to the Iraq War. We see him meet Laura (Elizabeth Banks), find God as a born-again Christian, and become the leader of the free world.

Josh Brolin gave a terrific performance as the Commander-in-Chief; not a parody of the man, but an all too human MAN. Sure there are the usual Bushisms, grammatical gaffes, the disastrous press conference, the choking incident. But Mr. Stone didn't present the 43rd Prez as the spawn of the devil. He's just misinformed, naive, and not as well-intentioned or politically astute as he might have thought he was.

There are some Iraq war footage, and the scene where the First Couple visit the injured soldiers was distressing. One can only imagine what the man who sent these kids to war was thinking as he personally witnessed their agony and sacrifice. The movie is supposedly well-researched, and it was fascinating to see dramatizations of conversations and arguments for and against the second Gulf War between a cautious Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), George Tenet (Bruce McGill), and a seemingly benevolent Karl Rove (Toby Jones), war-mongering Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss). I half-wanted Cheney to rub his hands together as he outlined his plans for world domination. Thandie Newton's Condoleeza Rice is the only weak link in the strong supporting cast.

This was an engaging, funny film that told the tale of a man with daddy issues who overreached, got lost and became one of the most divisive and controversial presidents of the USA. History may yet judge Dubya less harshly...this film certainly did. And all he ever wanted was to play baseball. And do better than Jeb.

(photo from here)

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have to disagree with the comment on Newton - she was one of the best parts of this thing. One day, I'll swear that we'll get a movie in which Dick Dreyfuss plays someone other than...DICK DREYFUSS. Every character he plays is the same guy.

But Newton was amazing in her ability to play into Stone's attempts to keep this movie both dramatic and humorous. Her look was basically dead on, but her focus on the oddity of Rice's behavior reflected the comedic undertones of this movie.

Let’s make no mistake about it - Rice has been willing to advance her career on the murder of hundreds of thousands of non-US citizens and thousands of US soldiers. I wish that more unlikeable historical personas were played as UNLIKEABLE historical personas in the movies instead of this wish-washy attempt to make everyone ‘human’.

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