Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"W" A Movie Review (and a look into why I've been so busy)
The photo has nothing to do with the movie, but shows the beginning of what has consumed much of my life for the past couple of years!
I saw “W” this weekend. I’m still not quite sure what morbid curiosity within me caused me to go see this movie in a theater and not wait till it was out on video. After all, it seems a bit early to do a serious work on our lame duck president. In some ways, I was expecting a comedy, but I should have known better as this is an Oliver Stone film. It was serious and although there were some humorous moments, the movie definitely wasn’t a comedy. And some scenes that would have been funny in other movies, like the Animal House scene when “W” (played by Josh Brolin) was pledging to a fraternity at Yale, was more pathetic in this movie as we all knew we were looking at a future president. At best, that scene serves as a morality tale, reminding us that our past will often continue to haunt us.
The movie jumps back and forth, between events of “W’s” Presidency to that of his upbringing and earlier careers. Often these events or vignettes are separated by a dream of “W” being in centerfield in a baseball stadium and running back and catching at the fence a hit that would have been a homerun. The movie shows the tension within “W”, of him being both a privileged kid and a desire to be what I’d call a Texas Redneck. It also shows his battles with his father (played by James Cromwell). W wants to please his old man and to be free of his father’s reign. This battle is best seen in “W’s” desire to best his brother Jed. According to the movie, “W’s” decision to run for governor of Texas and eventually the Presidency comes from his father proudly telling him about Jed’s intention to run for the governor of Florida and how Jed might eventually make a run for President.
Religion also plays an important and complicated role in the movie. His faith is credited with helping W overcome his drinking problem. On a personal level, the movie displays “W’s” faith as genuine. He really believes God has called him to his role as President. Even his prayers at the White House are humbly depicted. However, there is a shady side of his faith, as seen in “W” becoming an advisor to his father in his 1998 campaign, helping his Dad win the support of the religious right. The older Bush bristles when “W”, surrounded by right-wing religious leaders, suggests he uses “code-words” such as “born-again” when discussing his faith in public.
Laura (played by Elizabeth Banks) also plays an important role in the movie. She’s seen as strong and supportive of her husband and also of bringing a certain amount of respectability to him (compared to a former woman he’d dated, who resulted in his father calling and telling “W” to act like a Bush). Several other characters stand out. There’s Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss is a dead ringer for the VP), who often stands next to the wall or next to the door, listening in the conversations with a devilish smirk. Colin Powell (played by Jeffrey Wright) stands up to “W” and others in Cabinet meetings, even pointing out to “W” the difference between him and his father in their approach to Iraq. Powell then goes before the UN, saying what he doesn’t believe about Iraq, which earns him the praise of Bush even though this action seems to diminish his role. I don’t think Powell appears in the movie after the UN scene. Karl Rove (played by Toby Jones) is depicted as a behind the scene operative (at one point, Powell wants to know what Rove is doing in a cabinet meeting) that helps create “W” into a politician (down to working with him on talking points that he can say and not screw up).
Over all, the main tension in the movie is between “W” and his dad. George complains that his father can never praise him to his face (the elder Bush does this through notes). W is infuriated when his dad, working through Brent Scowcroft, questions the wisdom of the Iraqi war. Near the end of the movie, “W” dreams that he’s in the Oval Office and his father comes in and berates his son for having destroyed the family name. In a scene reminiscence of a earlier fight between the two (one that Jed broke up while Barbara was yelling), the two go at it and then “W” wakes up screaming.
A few weeks ago I saw an interview with Oliver Stone. The director said something like “I came to admire “W” while abhorring his policies.” This comes through in the movie. Of course, there is so much not covered in the movie (We've had nearly 8 years of this man and the film is only 2 hours). Hopefully we will not be treated to a W2 or W3. Maybe there is a place for a Halloween Bush, for this administration has become somewhat of a horror tale.