Watched: October 30th 2008
Where: Gaumont Parnasse, Paris
I did not think I'd have much to say about W, but I've ended up proving myself wrong. My initial impression of W. was that I was not sure why it was made when it was, or what it was supposed to say but maybe now I'm beginning to understand. The most controversial thing in W. is George Bush (Josh Brolin) the man, you actually begin to like him, feel for him and put yourself in his shoes... Perhaps it's because one expects something stronger and more controversial from an Oliver Stone picture, about telling a story otherwise dismissed. Not only that but even his technique (mixing real footage in with his story - or "truth" in with the "fiction") looks and feels a little unremarkable these days. Maybe it has been this way for a while and I've just not watched as much Oliver Stone as I have thought. However, one thing that is not missing in W. is that it feels truly American, as least as true as it can feel to someone from outside that society. W. feels like an American film, telling an American story about an American family that affects America.
W. looks at the three families that George W. Bush belongs too, his blood relations, the church and his political advisers. Whilst perhaps it is his father George Bush Sr (James Cromwell) and his blood relations that steals more scenes than anyone from the families the two remaining ones are equally important in the effect they have on Dubya's life. Bush is not as stupid as he is often shown to be, but he is not from the same stock as his father and this is something we and he are reminded of throughout the film. Bush feels like a failure in his Father's eyes, in his youth being bailed out of prison, helped out of the airforce and given opportunity after opportunity, all of which he spurned. Life for Bush changes a little with marriage, he becomes more settled, his wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks) is a good influence on him and he makes more moves to find his place in the world. Bush also watches his father's continuous rise in the family business (politics) - helping out as campaign manager due to brother Jeb's (Jason Ritter) unavailability, as his father makes it all the way to president. Bush then watches Jeb enter the family business of politics and with it the accolades he gets from his father. Dubya then finds another family, that of the church. He becomes a born again, beats his battle with alcohol and decides it is his destiny to enter the family business too, much to the dislike of his father, who wants to focus on his other son, Jeb's career. This does not stop Bush Jr and he runs for Governor of Texas whilst Jeb runs for Governor of Florida. Bush Jr does himself no favours with his father again when he decides to run for president after an instruction from God. The family (Bush Sr) were all expecting Jeb to run for President, not George. They do not believe he will win. The rest there as they say is history.
The third family of Bush is the one we know all too well, his advisers. The frightening gollumesque Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) or Vice as he is called by Bush. His lovely spin doctor with him from day one of his political career who grows increasingly evil as his power increases. Not forgetting cameos from Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton) and poor old Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright). The plotting of W and its skips in time work really well as we see how Powell and Cheney's relationship changes from the first Gulf War to the second where we see both of their true faces.
Perhaps W. is controversial after all, we are all used to seeing the public George Bush, his army of advisers, the rhetoric, the stumbles and the Iraq war. I think Oliver Stone felt there was more to say than just making another Michael Moore style inquisition into Bush and his cronies (Iraq, Oil, war on terror, etc). What we did see that was new is how much Bush wanted to be his own man, to make up for his past and to do something good, to be a man of the people. We also see his frustration at his failure of not being himself as President, taking advice and guidance from those with different ambitions to his own. W is a little bit of a frustrating film, there are great performances all round (especially from Brolin and Dreyfuss), a familiar story with a few new twists and turns outside of the established Bush story. However, there is something unsatisfying about W, why was it made now and for what purpose? Maybe we are missing the point and that this story is for another film. Somehow W. feels like There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007), what with the oil, and family difficulties, certainly some fun could be had reading one as an allegory of the other. It would have been fun to watch Bush Sr. beat his son to death when he decided to run for President though! Perhaps we are disappointed because there is no conspiracy about George W. Bush, perhaps that is the missing story of controversy and conspiracy from Oliver Stone.