One letter, eight years in office
The film W. debuted as the number-four film at the box office and received moderate reviews from most critics, though Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, calling it “fascinating,” while Rotten Tomatoes reported mixed reviews.
Oliver Stone, the director, and Stanley Weiser, the writer, researched and read over 17 books to prepare for the film. As the movie opens on a baseball field, viewers are supposed to connect this theme throughout the film with George W. Bush’s life. Bush has been quoted saying, “I never dreamed of being president; I wanted to be Willie Mays,” and from childhood, baseball has been a major part of the president’s life.
The film then cuts to a scene of Bush and his cabinet trying to come up with a word to aim the war initiative at; the term “axis of evil” was supposedly created here.
The members represent an all-star cast of incredible portrayals. Josh Brolin plays President George W. Bush, Thandie Newton plays National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Jeffrey Wright plays Secretary of State General Colin Powell, and Richard Dreyfuss plays Vice President Dick Cheney.
The impersonations are incredible, down to the Texas slur and walk of Bush to the calm but firm resolution of Powell. Although Newton did not speak much throughout the film, her speech patterns and physical appearance were spot on.
This scene also presented the dynamics of the cabinet: Bush has various nicknames for the members such as “Brother George” for George Tenet, the ex-CIA director, and “Boy Genius” for Karl Rove. It is also made apparent that General Colin Powell had ideological differences with Vice President Cheney concerning war strategies and tactics. The scene ends with a closing prayer from Bush.
Audience members are then taken back to Bush’s fraternity days as he, with two other pledges, is being hazed. Under pressure, Bush shows talent and promise as he prevails through his brothers’ test of naming all the brothers present. Bush was eventually elected president of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon.
The film continues with a scene at a jail where a young Bush has been locked away for what appears to be a fight and a call from his father (which did not occur in real life) gives insight to the Bush father-son relationship. Bush, the elder, was a newly elected Texas congressman and “Junior’s” actions were a potential embarrassment to the family.
A scene on an oil rig shows Bush struggling to find an occupation that he is willing to keep, and then a scene in a bar shows a former love interest of the young Bush. The film continues, highlighting Bush’s exuberance for running three miles a day. It also takes a bit of artistic license in portraying how his father may have been ashamed of how little his son has accomplished.
A shift back to more recent times follows the creation of the Patriot Act, one of the many decisions the film portrays as largely motivated by Cheney.
The rest of the film trudges forward in a nearly linear pattern. From the beginning of the film, viewers needed to pay close attention to the film’s oscillating between past and present, with intermittent scenes of Bush in a baseball field hearing cheers from an empty stadium.
Stone chose to portray Bush’s life in the style that most writers would use in a book — the same methods do not always translate as smoothly to film, and this may have been a criticism from audience members.
The acting was excellent and of high caliber, but the acts of the film were sometimes difficult to follow. Random scenes seemed to be inserted that did not contribute to the general narrative of the work, but instead seemed to poke fun at the main character, such as the incident of Bush choking on a pretzel, or his inability to follow through on the “Fool me once...” adage.
The ending seemed remarkably sudden for a viewer waiting for the film to end, and although it may not have left the audience yearning for more, it left the impression that not everything was covered.
Stone describes the movie as having “surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors.” As for the film, Brolin’s performance was surprisingly entertaining, but the story line, not so much.