I finally got around to seeing Oliver Stone's W. last night. With some exceptions, I tend to like Stone's movies - particularly the political ones - but W. didn't resonate the way Nixon and JFK did. The subject matter seemed too recent and the cast of characters too familiar to warrant a 2 hour rehashing of a decade that isn't over yet. As the film wore on, I began to wonder if bio-pics need some sort of distance from their subject matter to find their bearings. The analysis of influential modern figures has tended to be documented, distilled and molded over time (mostly as written biography) with film dramatizations coming a decade or two later. The essence and public perception of the figure is therefore shaped and contextualized by the combined analysis of multiple viewpoints and with the benefit of hindsight.

It would be impossible to completely satisfy the audience of a film about such a polarizing figure as George W. Bush. By definition, it will be too sympathetic for half of them (or 90% in this case) and too critical for the other. Stone therefore struck a careful middle territory that unfortunately makes the whole exercise seem a little pointless. The film tries to keep a foot in both camps and ends up at times feeling a bit too much like a painfully unfunny two hour SNL skit. That being said, there are some interesting standouts amongst the caricatures presented here. Richard Dreyfess is strangely subdued (but effective) as Dick Cheney, capturing his creepy persona with a sufficiently evil stillness that gave me the willies. Brolin is good as Dubya and the James Cromwell as George Senior probably gives the most nuanced performance. In retrospect, I wondered if Stone hadn't picked the wrong Bush to do a picture about.

It will be interesting to see how this film ages and if it has an impact on the legacy of a President whom many consider to be the worst in U.S. history. Less than 20 years after Reagan left office, his rise to quasi-sainthood is nearly universal among Americans, so it's entirely possible that the excesses and mind-boggling missteps of Bush Jr.'s administration might wane as time marches on. It seems doubtful that Mount Rushmore will ever sport the 42nd President's likeness but stranger things have happened.

I'm guessing Ollie's already got a rough draft of The Obama Story worked out and a call into Will Smith's agent.


the coelacanth said...

some interesting and thought-provoking notes, for sure, sporge. i agree with you on one hand, but i think that it is at the very least intriguing that stone chose to make the film now, BEFORE the president has a chance to be smoothed or sharpened, either by revisionist historians, or by the eroding and streamlining effects of history itself. what we see here is what we got, and while it is incredibly frustrating for some critics that stone did not lambaste bush, i think that this way was the braver approach. bush is such an easy target, and to slam him would have been a cinematic cop-out. i'm not saying in any way that bush deserves the opposite, but to show things merely "as they were" is a laudable show of restraint on oliver's part. the film will continue to frustrate both camps, as you say, but by siding with neither, i don't think olly has weakened his approach, but strengthened it, much in the way an objective documentarian does.

and how miscast was thandi newton as condi? god...

La Sporgenza said...

No doubt... I didn't mean that I don't admire Stone for making the film, more the idea that time changes our perspective and rarely does a bio-pic get made without this built-in delay. I wish he hadn't sat on the fence quite so much, but realize why he did.