I dragged Scott to W. (IMDB.com) on Saturday. I loved Oliver Stone's other biopic of a fatally flawed US president Nixon so I really wanted to like W., but I have to admit that half-way through the movie I felt bored.
It is very ambitious to make a movie about a sitting president, but without the distance of time and nostalgia, it seems a little pointless to reminisce about on-going events. I'm not sure why Stone felt the need to rush this movie's production before the November 4 election since it's doubtful Republican voters will see it. It definitely could have used more interesting editing, casting, and writing.
Not that the movie was terrible or without its moments. It was interesting seeing the many faults of the current president presented from his beginnings as a privileged, directionless pre-political drunk repeatedly bailed-out by his father, to his religious conversion, to his overly simplistic and ignorant presidential decisions. There is a terrific, eerie and blatantly symbolic scene where he and his cabinet become lost on his ranch while discussing plans for the Iraq invasion. And Josh Brolin's version of Bush Jr. was the best performance of the often parodied president.
The casting of the supporting players was the most disappointing aspect of the movie -- especially using actors too familiar to be believed. James Cromwell's portrayal of President George Bush Sr. seemed liked any other stiff, old guy Cromwell often plays. Richard Dreyfuss' lurking, smirking Dick Cheney was fun to watch, but too much like a SNL skit. Jeffrey Wright's Secretary of State/General Colin Powell sounded silly -- like someone trying to talk in an adult voice. But the most distracting performance was Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice. I have heard criticism of Rice for being a feeble National Security Advisor unable to reign-in Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld during Bush Jr's first term, but I've never heard anyone describe Rice as a feeble, geriatric woman as Newton portrayed her. Newton's performance was probably intentional, but unnecessary.
W. indulges our (Americans') suspicions about the Bush Sr-Bush Jr relationship by portraying Bush Sr as a disappointed patriarch and Bush Jr as a guy with daddy issues. The movie may be unfair in its psychoanalysis, but it does raise reasonable questions about what Bush Sr. and Barbara Bush must be pondering about their family's political legacy.
Most surprising is how restrained Stone was on Bush Jr. My generation's Nixon is not a self-conscious, conniving, political tactician. Rather, Bush Jr. is a simple-minded, over confident, rube who believes his own rhetoric. On second thought, the timing of the movie does make sense. Name recognition, Christianist branding, and (supposedly) average Joe approachability are not sufficient qualifications for any leadership position -- let alone the presidency.