W. Movie Review

As President Bush's second term winds down and the race for 2008 spins at fevered pace, now is the time to make a statement -- reflecting on the failures of the current administration and projecting our hopes for the next.

Oliver Stone's W. is not that statement.

With characters as shallow as W.'s nicknames -- Poppy, Rummy, Vice, to name a few -- Stone plots a confused course following George W. from a directionless, silver spoon frat boy to his absent-minded presidency. At best, W. is just as glorious a failure as Bush's administration.

Ripped from Stone's crazed political perspectives, the story bounces back and forth from W.'s (Josh Brolin) hell-raising youth -- drinking and driving, smoking and screwing -- to the events leading up to the Iraq War, interspersed with a meaningless baseball metaphor/dream sequence. The disjointed plot line works for W.'s youth, as Stone elliptically cuts the flashbacks to emphasis W.'s alcoholism and over-inflated ego -- creating a genuinely unlikable, one-dimensional caricature. Supported by a stream of whiskey bottles and failed careers, the flashbacks' negative view of W. sets the film up for a full-on assault of an older President Bush. Then, in the blink of an eye, Stone unapologetically cuts to an irate President Bush raging against his cabinet of masterminds that seemingly duped him into an unwinnable war. Why should we care about this lame-brained alcoholic?

We don't, and neither does the cast. Without a solid stance on the character of W., there's nowhere for Brolin to go, and he's forced merely to deliver Stone's and writer Stanley Weiser's unfunny jokes. To muddle matters further, the rest of the ensemble cast has the same problem. Gen. Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) delivers anti-war soliloquies, supported by emotion-evoking (or exploiting) melodies, while the Saturday Night Live-style Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton) delivers her lines like a Muppet Baby. Without any guiding line of character, we never invest anything into them. We never sympathize with W. and we scoff at Stone's vision of the Extreme Right, helmed by Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Rice. It's a huge shift when Stone tries cutting into the meat of W.'s character -- his relationship and feelings toward his father. But Stone offers a bite that's too big to swallow; we can't give W. that because it hasn't given us anything in return.

While the more contemporary Iraq War story line seems to inject some life into this mess, if apathy has leaked in at any point over these eight difficult years and you stopped paying attention, good luck keeping up with the plot. Sure, the big strokes are there, but the details -- and fictionalization -- of how Bush's cabinet may have manipulated him are just as mixed-up as the film's characterizations. After the fifth slow motion shot of W. looking stupid (usually involving Christ imagery -- arms outstretched or lights like a halo over his head) or another montage of Iraq bombings set to old-timey, light-hearted folk tunes, we've stopped looking for the point and started looking for the exit. Stone can only juggle so many characters and plot lines -- Bush's presidency, his youth, his relationship with Bush Sr., the blind egotistical drive -- before it comes crashing down as a boring cinematic mess. If we're lucky, we make it out of the theater before Bob Dylan's "God on Our Side" plays over the end credits; Stone adding more insult to injury by wielding another artist's statement over his own impotent production.

Meeting Accomplished.


Comments

W. Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: PG-13, 2008

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