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Review: W.-The Story of George Bush (2008)

Director: Oliver Stone | 124 minutes | drama, comedy, biography | Actors: Sayed Badreya, Elizabeth Banks, David Born, Dennis Boutsikaris, Jesse Bradford, Jonathan Breck, Josh Brolin, Bruce Bryant, Ellen Burstyn, Wes Chatham, Rob Corddry, James Cromwell, Jon Michael Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Fathy, Chris Freihofer , Terry Gamble, Jim Garrity, Michael Gaston, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, Toby Jones, Stacy Keach, James Martin Kelly, Tom Kemp, Allan Kolman, Bryan Massey, Bruce McGill, Thandie Newton, Gabriela Ostos-Tamez, Jason Ritter, Taylor Treadwell, Jonathon Tripp, Thomas Wallace, W. Douglas Waterfield, Drew Waters, Brent Weisner, Jeffrey Wright, Noah Wyle

Director Oliver Stone is a refined filmmaker and is known for his films with a “solid” content and message. Examples include: “Born on the 4th of July”, “Platoon”, “JFK” and “Nixon”. So it was a matter of waiting to see if he would take such a firm position with “W.” again. Exciting, because expectations are high for this film. Let us immediately conclude that those expectations are not being met. “W.” has actually turned out to be a fairly good, surface-lasting film, which – regardless of the protagonist’s fame – “satisfies”, yet does not make a great cinematographic contribution. Starring Josh Brolin (George W. Bush), and Ellen Burstyn (as George Sr. and Barbara Bush), Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush) and Thandie Newton’s Condoleezza Rice, not to mention Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, Toby Jones (Karl Rove) and Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, better output should have been expected.

The story is a kind of biopic, portraying the rise and course of Bush’s career to what he is today, the president of the United States. We see how during his college days he almost foolishly around with his heavy drinking classmates and circle of friends and follow his transition to the final political top. In between, we see his deep religious repentance and the constant struggle he had with his father, which is an important theme in the film. In the view of director Stone, W. has had to fight almost all his life against the idea that he is actually falling short in the eyes of his father. W. is a more than heavy drinker in his younger years and hits the bottle quite a bit. His father strongly disapproves of this behavior that can damage the Bush dynasty’s name and fame. The film initially pays a lot of attention to the time when Bush was still working on his political rise. First of all, a kind of man who was not very successful, but where the helping (and the circumstances massaging) hand of father was constantly present in the background and seeing his transition to conservative Christianity. After that, the period 2002-2003, which determines the war in Iraq, is explicitly shown. The period after that remains out of the picture.

The actors’ acting is not always convincing. Thandie Newton’s performance of Condoleezza Rice does not resemble the self-assured, “hard” politician she is in practice. Karl Rove, the evil strategic genius in the background, is well played by Toby Jones and James Cromwell (who doesn’t know him from “Babe”?) Plays Bush Sr. convincing and with flair. His grandeur of the wealthy Bush Patrician family is portrayed very credibly. James Brolin also looks a lot like W. and has studied his mannerisms very well, Brolin’s interpretation is also fine. Richard Dreyfuss plays an excellent role as Dick Cheney, crazy about power and willing to use whatever means he can for his purpose and belief. The weaker part of the is mainly in the structure of the story and the cohesion of the whole. It all seems a bit collected and put together with the necessary haste, in order to be able to release the film in time (= before the November 2008 elections). Whether Stone’s portrayal of Bush is historically correct is less interesting. There is still plenty to enjoy from the political era. The deliberations in the White House, the political games that are being played, the differences between them and the way in which Bush ultimately makes almost all the decision about the Iraq war, all are more than enough reason to see the film. The film can be seen from the point of view of a satire, at the same time there is great drama in that reign and the government of W. has deeply divided the country. The film lacks that drama. That Bush Jr. often speaking with full mouth is the least we should forgive this president. Despite the criticism and insufficient depth, this film can still be enjoyed enough.

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