NEW Movie Review: Oliver Stone’s “W”

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Josh Brolin stars as George W. Bush in this Oliver Stone biopic that traces the head of state’s rise to power from a privileged alcoholic to a born-again Christian whose belief in religious destiny helped move him to the top ranks of political power.  -IMDB synopsis

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Before I saw Josh Brolin’s (quite respectable) performances in American Gangster and No Country for Old Men, I thought the best thing about him was his wife (the fabulous Diane Lane)!  In W, he gets to stretch his acting repertoire (with help from several veteran actors).  The accent, mannerisms, and mistakes of W are on display here.  But Oliver Stone doesn’t create a (overly) negative picture of the president.  My mom commented that the film made her feel “a little sorry for Bush.”

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The heart of this film is the father-son relationship; W never feels like he measures up to H.W. (played with great ease/conviction by James Cromwell).  The grande dame of the Bush family, Barbara (Ellen Burstyn), gets a couple of good moments in the film.  She’s great- I wanted to see more Barbara!  Jeb and other family members are barely there; I wanted to know more about the siblings.

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Believe it or not, W was called “elitist” and “Eastern” when he first ran for office in Midland, TX (his family’s adopted hometown)!  Laura Welch (Elizabeth Banks; she did a fine job in Seabiscuit) was a registered Democrat when she was introduced to Bush at a barbecue.  Laura is as we’d imagine her to be, but her character is not deeply explored.  She’s your typical sweet, supportive, pretty Southern girl.

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Once Bush enters national politics, he’s supported by “Vice” Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Condi Rice (Thandie Newton), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), and “genius boy” Karl Rove (Toby Jones).  My mom wanted to see more of Condi.  I wanted to see more of Dreyfuss and Glenn; they are solid veteran actors, but under-used here.  That’s just sad!  Dimunitive Brit actor, Toby Jones, gets a few interesting moments with Brolin.  Jones has played sneaky political types many times in his acting career.

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I was surprised that the first 20 minutes of the film were so dull.  It showed Bush as a young man acting the fool.  He drinks too much, can’t keep a job, and so forth.  My mind wandered off to other things.  I really liked the two long-ish scenes Brolin had with Stacy Keach (who played an Evangelical pastor from Midland).  Brolin commented in an interview that quitting drinking was one of the things he admired about W.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much to admire about this film.  We already know a lot of the things this film covers!  This is a different Oliver Stone than the one who made Born on the Fourth of July and JFK.  Those movie stays in your mind, unlike this one.

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