The reviews that have come rolling in for “W”, the Oliver Stone biopic about America’s 43rd president, were disappointing. People complained that it lacked bite, that it was too episodic, and that it did not live up to the reputation of a maverick director such as Stone. We have come to expect from the man at least one hyper controversial, highly memorable, and risqué scene. While this film may not have delivered that (the fist fight between Bush Sr. and Jr. coming close), I found myself fully engaged from start to finish. And I think that the immaculate casting, from Rove to Cheney to “W” himself, was the main reason.
From the first scene involving Bush and his entire team of policy advisers whom we have come to know so well huddled around the Oval Office, the movie captivated me. It just felt so real.
Richard Dreyfuss played Dick Cheney to a fault, with his manipulative ways and his overall sense of evil and mischievousness on full display. Something about him standing up leaning against the door while the rest of the team sat around on couches during the first scene, showed his (dare I say) maverick ways.
Karl Rove was played by Toby Jones, a total unknown to me going in. But something about his facial features and his delivery gave the viewer the clear impression that not only was he evil and conniving, but that this was all he had in his life and in the end, was an extremely sad and lonely character.
Condy Rice didn’t say much but the resemblance between the soon to be ex secretary of state and Thandie Newton was uncanny.
Jeffrey Wright turned in a powerful performance as the least hawkish of the hawks (and an Obama supporter to boot), Colin Powell. His passionate displeasure with the Iraq war plan in the war room was a scene to behold. Note: for the most part, the film told a story and did not take any clear stance on the issues. The exception to this was the introduction of sappy piano music during Powell’s eloquent refusal to agree with the hawks that Iraq was the country to invade. Clearly, Stone was trying to invoke a positive relationship between Powell and the audience. We all know how, in perhaps the most disappointing moment in Powell’s political career, he eventually played an integral part in the selling of the war. And here, once again when Stone recounted it, the audience could feel his pain and ashamedness.
James Cromwell played the part of Bush Sr. One of my favourite actors, he portrayed the 41st president as a highly conflicted character, often having to take sides with one of his sons. By the end, politics had seemed to take a tremendous on not only him, but his family.
And finally, Josh Brolin was a great choice for the man himself. While it may not be the hardest impression to pull off, Brolin did it without seeming too caricatural. He succeeded in portraying an extremely stubborn man, one who does not bend or break, and everything from his physique, to his dress, to his down-south accent, to his snicker, and to his “man’s man” persona were spot on.
One thing I noticed about this character was that, (whether it was the burger at the barbecue or the ham and cheese sandwich/cheetos lunch with Mr. Cheney), a clear relationship was made between the man and his consumption. Perhaps his gluttony was meant as a symbol of his haste, his overall lack of sensibility, and his inability to think through issues in a logical fashion. I truly felt that Stone was trying to say that “W” ate like he lived his life: with reckless abandon. Remember in Kill Bill 2, when you couldn’t take your eyes off David Carradine preparing the sandwich? In very much the same way, my attention was drawn to Bush’s devourous eating habits. And while I’m not sure exactly what Stone was going for with this, there is no question that it was a recurring theme.
Anyway, I could go on. Barbara and Laura Bush were both extremely well cast as well. Tony Blair, Jaques Chirac, and Vladimir Putin all show up for quick cameos.
If not for the immaculate casting, this film would have been merely satisfying. In other words, its well worth watching, if only for this reason.
On another note, maybe there are some reasons to ACTUALLY miss Bush. Oh, and the video is funny too.