June 20, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 26 March 2009 12:24
As the film business gears up for the spring releases, the Reel Dad takes a look at a major release from last fall, W, now available on DVD.
There’s no way to know if anything that is portrayed in Oliver Smith’s utterly bizarre would-be biopic W actually happened, except, of course, the election of George W. Bush, the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and the unique way the former President speaks and gestures, what I guess is called a Texas swagger. So don’t come to the film expecting anything other than a two-hour treat of high caloric movie junkfood. This is one trashy film and, on a few levels, quite a bit of fun.
Using the weeks before the Iraq invasion as a frame, W purports to offer insight into how this leader was thinking and governing. With a series of flashbacks — kind of a “this is your life” greatest moments reel — director Oliver Stone tries to build a case that Bush was, beyond an accidental president (interestingly, the hanging chads are never mentioned), a rather absurd choice, given his background of partying, business failures and awkward confrontations with his parents. In his college and early working years Bush is portrayed as a reckless rebel without any cause beyond a can of beer, a pack of cigarettes, and a blonde at his side. Only as he meets his future wife, reaches his 40th birthday, and is asked by his father to join “the family business” of politics, does the would-be partygoer develop a serious agenda. And, along the way, he discovers his faith.
Stone treats these highly personal issues with the same reckless abandon he brings to every film project, serious (as in JFK and Nixon) or silly (as in Any Given Sunday). He seems oblivious to getting the small facts right (such as the pronunciation of the last name of a Congressman from Texas) or making the relationships believable (such as an outrageous performance by Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush). Instead Stone seems to be intent on creating as much “shock and awe” about the former president as Bush himself intended with his military decisions. It’s as if the National Enquirer created the film and hired the creators of South Park to develop the script.
But it’s a highly watchable film, mainly because of the excellent work of Josh Brolin in the title role. It poses an interesting question — is it a better showing of an actor’s ability to excel in a well-written role (such as Brolin’s Oscar-nominated turn in Milk) or for creating cinema life from the hackneyed dialogue in this script? Regardless, the actor’s portrayal reaches beyond the level of impersonation (which is, by the way, dead on) to reveal more about the potential layers of the man than the script or direction could ever suggest. And he has the walk down perfectly.
Other well-known performers provide fun-to-watch cameos, from Richard Dreyfuss’ creepy Vice President to Jeffrey Wright’s touching Secretary of State to James Cromwell’s haunting father of the president. And look for Scott Glenn in a hilarious view of a defense secretary who likes to doodle in meetings.
W will tell you very little about what may actually explain why the former president took the actions, or made the commitments, he made. And who knows what Oliver Stone was thinking. But it’s a lot of fun to watch. Junkfood can be endearing.
* Content: Low. This is total junk food with minimal nutritional value. If you are looking for a serious study of the Bush years, keep shopping.
* Entertainment: High. It can be fun to spend an evening wallowing in junk food and, next to an old Susan Hayward picture, this is as good as it gets.
* Message: Low. There is no message, so don’t look for one!
* Relevance: Low. Historians with stronger eyes will view the Bush years with careful precision. That doesn’t happen here.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Low. Just sit back, pop the corn, and enjoy. And don’t take it too seriously!
3 Popcorn Buckets
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