The atmosphere in the Savoy Theater before I viewed W. could be likened to that of the Colosseum during the Roman empire, clamoring with an audience that seemed more than a little eager for the vicarious thrill of violence in watching our current president ripped to shreds and its subsequent bloody aftermath. In such respects, one would be left disappointed as W. presents a fairly balanced and historically accurate account of the life thus far of George W. Bush and the events surrounding him that helped to forge one of the unlikeliest of political destinies.
According to a reputable film source, production in W. began in May of this year and was deliberately hastened (i.e. the exclusion of the second term of Bush’s presidency) and timed for its release several weeks prior to the election. And while Olive Stone’s political film explorations of JFK and Nixon were more sensationalized and grandiose in scope, it is evident that Stone had a clear vision of what he wanted his film to accomplish. As Stone explains, “Whoever wins the election, Bush’s impact has changed the world. This man has left us with three wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror — and the legacy of the pre-emptive strike. These are all legacies that will haunt his successor for years. It’s good for people before the election, to think about who they elected eight years ago and about where we are as a country right now.”
Josh Brolin stepped in for Christian Bale, who opted out of the production at the last minute. In his portrayal however, Brolin proves he is anything but second best, genuinely capturing the essence of our beleaguered president-from his accent, mannerisms, demeanor, and his infamous Bush-isms (see aforementioned title) that have left us as a nation collectively embarrassed.
We see Bush as a frat boy fuck-up, whose excessive drinking, womanizing and inability to hold down a job or commit to a career path have left him at odds with his father, George Bush Sr. James Cromwell encapsulates the essence of this role, underscoring the tension as a chronically disapproving father and a son who could never quite please him was palpable; one could not help but feel some sympathy for Bush, despite political leanings. W’s need to please and his desire to succeed at all costs to prove himself also provided a glimpse into his psychological make-up and a chilling contrast to the decisions that he has made as a president.
We also see how instrumental events such as meeting his future wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) at a backyard barbeque, a religious conversion experience, and his win as Texas governor led to his rapid political ascension. Yet his rise as leader came with the knowledge (at least apparent to many Americans) that he was woefully equipped to lead and it is clear that many of his cabinet members, a strong supporting cast including Richard Dreyfuss as a zealous Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, stepped up to try to fill in many of his leadership “gaps” — and at times serve their own political agendas. A noticeable disappointment was Thandie Newton’ as Condoleezza Rice. As previous reviews have suggested, her portrayal was more caricature than character, the stuff of Saturday Night Live sketches, not indicative of the close relationship she has reportedly maintained with Bush.
All in all, W. is a worthwhile examination of our President and the legacy of his presidency that we as a nation will reluctantly inherit. In a memorable exchange with a journalist during a press conference, Bush was asked what place he thought that he would have in history. His response? “History? In history, we’ll all be dead.”
Here’s hoping that the film will herald the death of political inertia and the advent of an era where we can question our leaders, voice our concerns, and really and truly be heard.
W. is now playing at the Savoy and Beverly cinemas.
Runtime: 2h 9min — Rated PG-13 — Drama