There are two shots in the film W. that focus solely on a man’s belt buckle, as if this small piece of flare were highly pertinent in indicating what kind of man it is that wears it. However, with the size of those two big Texas belt buckles, it actually does help the audience ascertain the character of those two men. Some would say Oliver Stone is the perfect man to direct a biopic about now former president George W. Bush. After all, Stone has already directed two biopics about American presidents, so he has the experience. Others would say that his style is too choppy and abstract for such a loaded undertaking. Well, both opinions might have been correct. But, the movie has been made and the proof is in the belt buckles, southern accents, and bologna sandwiches.
In W., Oliver Stone approaches the history of George W. Bush with a scalpel; he zeroes in on the tiny moments that add up to make the man. The result is two hours of short scenes, a little bit of actual footage, and a lot of Josh Brolin’s face. The bite size scenes make the movie much more edible for the casual viewer. W. never gets boring, because it just keeps on moving, clipping along at a quick enough pace to keep the viewer interested. It is this touch of trickery that will suck in even the least political viewer. However, it is this same trickery that could be interpreted by Anti-Bush political pundits as being too minimalist.
The movie has two plot arcs. The first plot arc begins in 2002, in the White House with Bush and his cohorts writing the “Axis of Evil” speech, and ends with a press conference in 2004. The second plot arc begins in 1966 with “Bushie” during pledge week at Yale, follows him through memorable moments, some fictionalized, some documented, and converges with the first plot arc after Bush gets elected as governor of Texas. We don’t get to see the major historical moments, like Bush declaring war, but rather the fertilization of those major moments, like when Bush’s inner circle convinces Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) that war is the answer.
It is Stanley Weiser’s script that drops the subtle bombs of the movie. Yes, his script contains mostly vivid caricatures of politicians, not three dimensional characters. However, it is with these caricatures that he allows the most potent points of the film to come onto the screen. Karl Rove (Toby Jones) coaches Bush before he gets elected as governor of Texas by demanding, “Anything about the issues, you come to me and I’ll tell you what to say.” Colin Powell warns Bush “If you really go through with this you’re going to be the proud owner of 6 million Iraqi people. You break it you own it.” And, the most hard hitting sentence of the entire film, Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) refers to the war and states, to the cabinet “There is no exit. We stay.” Weiser’s script distributes the fault of a failed presidency evenly throughout its supporting characters.
Weiser does not crucify George W. Bush, but he certainly does not make him look like the sharpest pencil in the pack. As the man himself, Brolin nails everything about his role. Brolin is oddly mesmerizing as former president Bush. In the same way that Bush is extremely charismatic, Brolin manages to capture that energy and grab all of the attention of the film. His inflection on lines like “I’m as happy as a rabbit in a carrot patch with you,” is hilarious. His southern accent is perfect as he drops phrases like “late sippin lefties.” But the accent, the posture and the facial expressions add up to much more than just a complex imitation of an actual person. Brolin’s performance is truly masterful; it is an artistic rendering that touches Oscar caliber.
No one can say that this movie is a flawlessly accurate interpretation of a historical figure. It is, however, a fairly unbiased and extremely intimate account of a single man. The historical fiction of the film is completely broken down by Stone into a postmodern pile that many could see as confusing mush. This film doesn’t appeal to either major political party. It isn’t a harsh enough rendering of the war to be made for the left and it isn’t a flattering enough portrait to be made for the right. In the end, Bush comes off like a slow witted sod who wanted to be president to please his father. Stone doesn’t assign him the fault of all of the travesties that occurred during his presidency, he leaves the fault open for interpretation.
The disc includes a commentary with director Oliver Stone, a featurette called “Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Legacy,” a giant DVD-ROM file that serves as a guide to the research used during the filmmaking process, and a theatrical trailer. The featurette is small but impressive; it unpacks some of the more serious implications of the facts surrounding the Bush administrations. “Dangerous Dynasty” is basically a small little documentary in which political talking heads converse on the subject of both George Bushes. The subject matter discussed might just be the answer to liberal concerns about the film. The featurette follows the power hungry nature of W’s administration and explores the illegality of some of their actions. There is not one conservative perspective in “Dangerous Dynasty,” each person talks about the absolute most unflattering facts concerning the Bush administration.
The commentary with Oliver Stone is highly enlightening. The director talks about how the film almost did not get made and how it is technically an independent film. Stone doesn’t seem to shy away from pointing out which parts of each scene are fictionalized and which parts are borne from facts uncovered in the research process. He points out how each scene is probably different in real life. Not only that but Stone sounds like he is highly, highly knowledgeable on the subject of Bush; he drops the names of books, journalists and articles left and right on the commentary track. Throughout his commentary, Stone manages to sound completely unbiased and even mentions a few times “I can’t talk about that,” when he starts leaning to the left. Listening to the commentary confirmed my belief that Stone didn’t just pull W. straight out of his head and plop it down on film, he had a method and every piece of the movie is exactly where Stone wanted it to be.
The annotated DVD-ROM file is by far the most impressive part of the special features. If you put the DVD into your computer you will be able to access “W.: The Official Film Guide.” The guide takes you through each and every scene and gives you footnotes. There are 83 headings that you can click on. Each heading gives you about 2-6 large paragraphs about the research done for the scene. When a scene is fictionalized, the guide will explain which aspects of the scene are based on fact, and where the filmmakers got those facts. The guide is filled with facts and trivia that a person interested in politics could absolutely get lost in. I would say that the “W.: The Official Film Guide” is a great way to find tons of reading material on Bush’s administration, as is the commentary track with Stone.