Oliver Stone’s W offers a glimpse into the life of George W. Bush; more specifically, snippets of his life from his college days up to the middle of his first term as president. The storytelling of the film is told in non-chronological order with jumps forward and back in time throughout the entire movie. It takes a little getting used to, but once it sinks in as to what’s going on the movie gets easier to digest. Throughout the non-linear timeline there’s an underlying theme played out through W hanging out in an empty baseball stadium by himself with an imaginary announcer, crowd and game being played out in his head. This imagination game serves as the metaphor for the different time periods that are showcased during the course of W.
As I mentioned, things jump around a bit so while there’s not just one central thing to focus on, you do get a glimpse into some of W’s more historic moments. I’ve read a bit about Bush Jr. and found it interesting to see some of his more infamous moments brought to life. Among the moments brought to the big screen include Bush’s days at Yale when he first joins his fraternity as well as his days at Harvard discussing how he’s going to run for congress during a poker game. George Jr. spent some time bouncing from one job to another (all seemingly arranged by George Sr. who gets continually frustrated by Jr.’s inability to hold down a job) which is peppered across different points early in the film. We also get to witness some of the battles W fought with his drinking problems and his famous anger.
On and off from the start to finish of the film are featured moments in the white house during W’s meetings with the likes of Dick Cheyney, Condolezza Rice, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell among others. These meetings portray him as a bit of a tyrant being subtlety manipulated by those around him while still acting like he’s in charge. Most of the focus of the meetings center on Iraq and what’s going to become Iraq II. The exchanges and power struggles are interesting to watch, especially with Colin Powell as he seems to be the only person realistic about what’s going on and the only one who’s not bending over backwards to kiss the butt of W or manipulate him in some fashion. Karl Rove and Dick Cheyney seem to be the people running the show while W gleefully thinks he’s steering the ship with Rumsfeld along for the ride trying to justify his role as part of the white house staff.
While a bit challenging to follow at times, the overall storytelling done by Oliver Stone is put together effectively. Stone’s style and investigative tenacity lend themselves well to this project as they did in JFK. I always liked Stone’s directing style and while his work is recognizable visually, it’s fresh in each of his films.
The acting is excellent and the cast is made up of really strong actors including Josh Brolin as W, Richard Dreyfuss playing Dick Cheyney, Scott Glenn portraying Rumsfeld and an almost unrecognizable Thandie Newton filling the shoes of Condi Rice. The cast is rounded out by James Cromwell (playing Bush Sr. who some think he should’ve gotten an Oscar nod for), Bruce McGill (George Tenet), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell), Stacey Keach (Rev. Earle Hudd), Ellen Burstyn (Barbara Bush) and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. There are other notable actors in the lineup but too many to mention. Suffice it to say that there’s not a weak link in the chain and all the actors put in compelling performances especially Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn and James Cromwell.
Even though Oliver Stone does lend an interesting visual element to W as he does with all his films, the meat of this project lies within the intellectual exchanges between the characters (or lack thereof with Bush) and the performances with the actors. If you have an interest in politics and how things play out behind close doors in the white house (fictional or otherwise), W is worth a look.
reviewed by Sean McKnight