Oliver Stone's supposedly controversial W. doesn't quite know what sort of film it wants to be. Stone's chronicle of the life and times of one of our most polarizing presidents, George W. Bush, whether it be because of the unruly task of compressing nearly forty years of history into two hours or the director's inability to commit his actors to a united form of storytelling, is unable to stay out of its own way.
Stone is notorious for presenting issues in a way that conforms to his vision of the world. I was prepared for a Bush bashing propaganda piece, but what I got was entirely different: It felt as if I were watching a two hour Saturday Night Live sketch with no jokes. The acting is terribly uneven with Josh Brolin playing a decent, yet cartoonish, version of George W. Bush. However, the flashbacks at the beginning of the film show Bush going through fraternity hazing, demostrating his knack for remembering people by their nicknames (a tactic he has continued to use into his sixties), the jarring effect pulls the viewer completely out of the conscious dream. The age gap between Brolin and the actors playing his fraternity brothers and fellow pledges is far too wide to be bridged.
The supporting cast was able at times, but spanned the gamut between Thandie Newton's extreme caricature of Condoleeza Rice, and James Cromwell not so much playing Bush the Elder, but James Cromwell himself wandering in and out of Bush 43's life. Understanding that Rice poses many challenges for the actress, as she possesses such a discernable manner, the film displays in full view the difficulties involved with playing a real person. Historical figures have been ably portrayed by such great actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, but W. presents clear evidence that if you cannot truly embody the character, he or she is better left alone.
The combined result made it difficult for me to take the film seriously when they portrayed some of the worst decisions made during the administration. It also made it difficult for me to identify with the characters when Stone allowed them to play sympathetically.
I believe that John Gardner summed up both the problems with this film and the Bush administration when he said, "In art as in politics, well-meant, noble sounding errors can devalue the world."
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