Oliver Stone, the once-potent beehive-shaker who proudly waded in the murky waters of the Kennedy assassination with JFK, again returns to unseemly side of US political history with this biopic of the hella controversial George W Bush
As the victim of more than his share of hyperbolic vitriol, Stone’s take on Bush (played with aplomb by Josh Brolin) seeks to show more than just a caricature, instead concentrating on what unfortunately made him the most pivotal character in recent memory.
With his father, President George Snr, heaping the burden of the Bush legacy on him, a load he struggles to deal with, his early years are chocka with drinking, loafing and savouring the taste of the silver spoon. Becoming a born-again Christian, W seeks to find a purpose and a calling, finding a place alongside his dad while he orchestrated the first Gulf War and got all a bit snitty about Saddam Hussein.
W’s common-man touch enables him to get a foothold in politics,ultimately leading him to the Whitehouse (of course). As the Gulf situation flares up again, it becomes a revenge mission – a chance to succeed where his father failed, while manoeuvring the US into a position of global authority by swiping the region’s valuable resources.
The film splits into handy sections, with each offering a different aspect of Jnr – and his time in office shows a wilful but misguided man, a man more focused than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 portrayed. Though globally derided for his mangling of the language, this is strangely downplayed by Stone, instead only occurring in private meetings, rather than in the media. Almost as an apologist, Stone implies that Bush is manipulated by his staff, as shown when Dick Cheney smuggles past him the bill that sires the infamous waterboarding torture method.
This is a man who sees the big picture, yet misses the crucial details. That said, Stone ensures that Bush is the man who insists on taking the ultimate responsibility. Once the Gulf War proves a PR disaster, only then does the more familiar bumbling Bush emerge, as if that failure was the trigger.
Even then, there’s a tone of sadness, as if it all proved too much, rather than him being the architect of his own downfall and a man who consciously dragged the world into crisis.
Stone is at his best when he has the bit between his teeth, but with W he seems reluctant to show his hand. Maybe it’s too close to the subject, after all it was made while Bush was still in office. On the one hand it shows him in a softer, kinder light, but it also places him at the centre of a cynical ploy to destroy a country solely for economic gain.
The Texan flavour, with its nauseating surfeit of country music and gosh-darn-it affable tone, colours proceedings, making major discussions in the war cabinet worryingly stripped of gravitas.
Tellingly, the most potent material, which would have given the film its guts, is tucked away in the extras. A short but cracking featurette on Bush’s legacy offers a procession of political commentators who systematically expose the cruel, arrogant avaricious and fundamentally immoral administration that he created. The presence of this reinforces the notion that Stone’s feature missed the chance to tell the whole story.
Extras: Featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes
Starring: Josh Brolin