Oliver Stone's W., a biography of President Bush, is fascinating. No other word for it. I became absorbed in its story of a poor little rich kid's alcoholic youth and torturous adulthood. This is the tragedy of a victim of the Peter Principle. Wounded by his father's disapproval and preference for his brother Jeb, the movie argues, George W. Bush rose and rose until he was finally powerful enough to stain his family's legacy.The movie goes through decades of W's partying and disappointing his parents. He never holds down a job and quits because he doesn't like the hard work and time it cuts into his carousing. One poignant part is how his parents favor Jeb, who does everything right, over W who screws up all the time. Stereotypically, he tries to please his father (Poppy) and repeatedly fails. We all know how his mother said the wrong son became president. They tried to talk him out of running for governor of Texas because they didn't think he'd win or maybe should win and because Jeb was running for governor of Florida, and they wanted to campaign for him. James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn were really good in their roles.
In the world according to W., Bush always fell short in the eyes of his patrician father (James Cromwell) and outspoken mother (Ellen Burstyn). He resented his parents' greater admiration for his younger brother Jeb. The film lacks scenes showing W. as a child, however -- probably wisely. It opens at a drunken fraternity initiation, and "Junior" is pretty much drunk until he finds Jesus at the age of 40. He runs through women, jobs and cars at an alarming speed, and receives one angry lecture after another from his dad.Colin Powell is shown relatively favorably, and Cheney and Rove are spot on in their manipulation of Bush. I never got a handle on Condoleeza Rice but just don't get her anyway. I don't understand how and why she is so loyal to W and went along with all that. She's a mystery to me. Rove and Lee Atwater are evil. I hope we see an end to their style of campaigning.
The focus is always on Bush (Josh Brolin): His personality, his addiction, his insecurities, his unwavering faith in a mission from God, his yearning to prove himself, his inability to deal with those who advised him. Not surprisingly, in this film, most of the crucial decisions of his presidency were shaped and placed in his hands by the Machiavellian strategist Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and the master politician Karl Rove (Toby Jones). Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) runs an exasperated third.The dialogue is taken from news conferences, speeches, and books written about all this. George Tenet, Rumsfeld, Laura, and W were as we'd expect them to be based on the news and reports. Richard Dreyfuss was so Dick Cheney that it seemed as if Cheney were playing himself! Excellent casting!
But what made them tick? And what about Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton)? You won't find out here. The film sees Bush's insiders from the outside. In his presence, they tend to defer, to use tact as a shield from his ego and defensiveness. But Cheney's soft-spoken, absolutely confident opinions are generally taken as truth. And Bush accepts Rove as the man to teach him what to say and how to say it. He needs them and doesn't cross them.
Unlike Stone's JFK and Nixon, this film contains no revisionist history. Everything in it, including the scenes behind closed doors, is now pretty much familiar from tell-all books by former Bush aides, and reporting by such reporters as Bob Woodward. Though Stone and his writer, Stanley Weiser, could obviously not know exactly who said what and when, there's not a line of dialogue that sounds like malicious fiction. It's all pretty much as published accounts have prepared us for.As infuriating as his administration is with all the incompetence, manipulation, greed, lying, and total disregard for humanity, human rights, the truth, and citizens of the US and the world, I felt a little sorry for W and certainly don't want to because I'll always be furious with him for what he's done to our country and for all the lives lost and ruined because of him. Watching him and his staff in action made me want to cry and scream.
Dried out, Bush is finally able to hold down jobs. The movie is far from a chronological record, organizing episodes to observe the development of his personality, not his career. Even several spellbinding scenes about the runup to the Iraq war are not so much critical of his decisions as about how cluelessly, and yet with such vehemence, he stuck with them through thick and thin. At a top-level meeting where he is finally informed that there are no WMDs in Iraq and apparently never were, he is furious for not being informed of this earlier. Several people in the room tried to inform him, but were silenced. Colin Powell spends a lot of time softly urging caution and holding his tongue. There is no indication that he will eventually resign.
His born-again Christianity was shown as sincere. To me, he traded one addiction for another as addicts often do. He isn't at all reflective or multi-dimensional but plows ahead like a true believer. Wanting to please and then outdo his father is classic. He's so much more like his mother, as she's admitted. I've read that Poppy would leave the room when the two of them would banter cruelly with each other. This is from a Vanity Fair article "The Accidental Candidate" by Gail Sheehy: Once, after his mother banished him from the golf course, she turned to Hannah and declared, "That boy is going to have optical rectosis." What did that mean? "She said, 'A shitty outlook on life.'" So there you have it!
One might feel sorry for George W. at the end of this film, were it not for his legacy of a fraudulent war and a collapsed economy. The film portrays him as incompetent to be president, and shaped by the puppet masters Cheney and Rove to their own ends. If there is a saving grace, it may be that Bush will never fully realize how badly he did. How can he blame himself? He was only following God's will.