A review of “W.” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language, alcohol abuse and mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes

 

 

Oliver Stone’s scathing indictment of the 43rd President of the United States reads more like an SNL sketch than a thought-provoking biopic but it’s no less entertaining.

Josh Brolin nails George W. to the wall as an alcoholic party boy with lifelong daddy issues. From his privileged days at Yale as a Delta Kappa brother to a series of professional missteps in sporting goods, on oil rigs and a stint in investment George is far more interested in chasing tail and seeking out his next beer than engaging in the family business.

George lives in the shadow of straight-shooting brother Jeb who’s cut from the same cloth as George, Sr. – smart, sincere and perpetually on the political arc. Junior sees politics as a “kick-ass, skull-crushing war” and evidently goes that route – running for Governor of Texas – as a slap in the face to Jeb’s campaign for Florida’s top spot.

When W. becomes born again in a world of wounded sinners – not to mention eschewing the drink once and for all – his call to the Presidency becomes part of a divine plan. A legend in his own mind and how.

Yes he’s “misunderestimated” and in the hands of Stone also a dimwit loser with no grasp of foreign policy or national intelligence. Much is made of the war in Iraq – some of the film’s most disquieting confirmations spring from agitated group sessions in the situation room.

The trouble with “W.” is that it’s a retread of the last eight years – not much we don’t already know about the most controversial figure in the history of politics. Or was before Sarah Palin made her move.

The laughs are unintentional but W’s public and private gaffes are vastly amusing. More sinister is his hodgepodge core of groupies; Karl Rove (Toby Jones) slithering around the shadowy perimeter like an oily reptile (I shuddered when he boasted of being a “lifelong student of political horseflesh”), a bumbling Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) who can’t perceive up from down and a conflicted Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) who stands alone as the voice of military prudence shot down amidst the power-mongers and yes-men.

Laura gets the bimbo treatment by fresh-faced Elizabeth Banks and daddy is played to patriarchal perfection by James Cromwell. Best of show go to Richard Dreyfuss as VP Dick Cheney (scary!) and a frighteningly dead-on impersonation of Condoleezza Rice by English beauty Thandie Newton.

Stone knows presidential biopics -- think “JFK” and “Nixon” -- but “W.” isn’t as accomplished as those projects nor as wickedly complex. There’s an unfinished feeling to this trepidatious tale of our current Commander in Chief; history light if you will. Rumor has it the film was rushed into production to beat the November election and it shows, a slapdash affair with enough damning evidence and melodramatic style to make it work.

Stone’s flashback/flash-forward technique is a narrative challenge but serves as an intriguing foundation for his convoluted but compelling psychoanalysis of Bush’s silver-spoon arrogance and deep-seated insecurities. The comic cure for what ails as November 4 looms fast and furious.