Saw it. Said I wouldn't but I couldn't resist. Plus there wasn't anything else worth 12 bucks at the theater around my birthday. So here goes, W, a review.
This film has proved a difficult one as far as reviewing goes. First off, there are many emotional factors swelling around inside of me that are clouding my ability to be objective about the filmmaking. And unlike Stone, I would really like to give something a fair shake on its own merits. But I'm finding that I just can't. So, as a result, I won't be. He's really made it impossible.
Historically, "W" sorta sucked. Yeah, he got some things right on most issues and events, but film is unique in its ability to provide psychological motives for actions, and here it falls flat. Stone gave us caricatures of the players that were responsible for initiating America's only preemptive war. Most times this wouldn't bother me, but since we are so close to an election, and since the person that the movie profiles IS STILL IN OFFICE, I believe that Stone took a shotgun approach to a very complicated and complex Presidential regime. Yes, too soon. We have the real one right in front of us. Every day. And if you are going to do this right now, after all we've been through, the issue is too important to be sloppy.
Sadly, the problem was in the filmmaking. The film lacked all the emotional virtuosity that we are used to in Stone films. The movie didn't know what to be about. Was it about the war? Was it about Bush Jr.'s relationship with his father? Was it about Bush Sr.'s failures? Was it about Bush's Christianity? Was it about the way in which the people surrounding Bush were too great of an influence? I don't know. And what about the election? What about 9/11?
In classic Stone-style, we got little vignettes in the form of flashback. However, flashbacks are only effective if they serve to amplify the present tense situation or the overall POV the director is trying to emphasize. They sorta did, but the the flashbacks were entirely too long and too self-conscious and as a result we soon forgot about the main plot, whatever it was, altogether. You can get away with much using flashback in film. In writing, you can't. There are cardinal rules you must follow and most times they are summarized and without dialogue. It's okay in film if they are short and emphasize a point- again, a point that supports the greater point of the film. They were just the opposite here. The film would have worked better linearly.
But again, and I don't think Stone knew exactly what he was going for, so he threw them altogether in a pot, shook it up, and called it art. Consequently, the film lacked center, reality, and a sense of real truth. I just didn't buy it.
The best thing about "W" was Josh Brolin. He did a very good job portraying Bush amidst a culture that is filled with people who are long-standing established masters of the Bush impersonation. Somehow, Brolin was able to bring some authenticity to the character without shooting for laughs. He took the character serious and in doing so, he brought a few shades of character to Stone's caricature.
Other than that the film just misfired on many, many levels. Thandie Newton, who does Condi Rice was the worst offender in the whole film. She portrayed her as a dumb, brainless twit who said yes and "amen" to everything Bush said or suggested. Not true. Condi was much craftier, and even admitted to spying on Cheney and Rumsfeld because they left the whole staff out of the loop. It portrayed Cheney much too kindly. It didn't even scratch the surface of Rumsfeld and his completely war-mongering ways, not to mention the coalition that existed between he and Cheney. Rumsfeld had the whole country duped into thinking the war was going well. That takes a charismatic and brilliant diplomat, floks. However, I felt the portrayals of Bush Sr. and Laura were terrific.
I left the theater feeling less enlightened on "W" and the Iraq war than I entered. It just surprised me that with all the info that we have after the 9/11 commission, Stone chose such a hodgepodge, historically sloppy outline to support whatever it was he was trying to say.
A surprise: It blew my mind that Stone took Bush's religion seriously and didn't force a Moore-esque slant on evangelical Christianity. I think most were surprised that the film didn't paint Bush in a more evil light. But guess what? He's not evil. Most historians know this. Most historians agree that Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld (and GeorgeTenet in the end) were the true axis of evil in his administration and they were 90% responsible for cooking up all the fake evidence for WMD.
Where did Bush go wrong? He ignored his instincts. When presented with the initial WWD (weapons of mass destruction) information Bush's first response was, "Is this it? Is this all we got?" But he trusted too deeply in those that were fixated on Iraq. He turned a blind eye to Powell's reasoning and furthermore, he ignored the way in which Powell was hamstringed by Cheney and Rumsfeld. He didn't lead into those convictions with confidence until we were already knee-deep into an unending war. Everyone was eventually fired, except Condi (the unlikely victor) and Cheney who suddenly started hunting, a lot.
All of this Bush knows, and he has admitted to it in his own way. "I am disappointed in our intelligence." In a way, he was lied to, as were we all. But, that's why we have a president, to make those kinds of judgement calls and see through the lies to the motives. To say, "not enough to invade, fellas. Sorry," or "Torture? No, not going to happen, I don't care how 'humane' you call it, Dick."
In closing, I would say this: If you want to see a really great report on what happened, a report with 10 times the suspense, information and actual interviews from people who were there - Rice, Powell... etc, watch the FRONTLINE two part special, "Bush's War." Go download it on iTunes. It is well worth it, more accurate than Stone's rendition, and more entertaining.
"W" by Oliver Stone, Grade: C-