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W. (Full Screen) (2008)

A movie directed by Oliver Stone

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What Place Do You Think He Will Have in History?

  • Oct 17, 2008
Oliver Stone's "W." is one of the year's most absorbing films, and that's because, as the tagline suggests, it reveals that George W. Bush has been greatly misunderestimated. Watching this film, we see not the forty-third President of the United States, the former Governor of Texas, or even a politician in general. From my perspective, we're being told about an insecure man who reaches too far in an attempt to earn his father's approval. This movie is not a political commentary--it's a character study. Better still, it's a character study that's more or less historically accurate, with Stone and writer Stanley Weisner relying on published works and in-depth reports for the screenplay. Liberties were obviously taken; after all, there's no way anyone could know exactly what was said behind closed doors. But all the basic scenarios are well documented, which is to say that the film never once felt contrived. The end result is a compelling, complex, and occasionally funny examination of a person who always has something to prove.

Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the title character, flawlessly capturing the mannerisms and diction we've become so familiar with over the last eight years. We see him as a determined but incompetent man who claws his way up to the presidency without the necessary skills. Pay close attention to scenes featuring W. in staff meetings; it quickly becomes clear that political heavyweights like Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), and even the infuriated Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) are making all the important decisions. As for W., well, let us not forget that the real President Bush publicly declared that his faith in God influenced his foreign policy decisions. In the film, he ends every meeting by having everyone bow their heads in prayer; I expected nothing less from a man who found God at age forty, when he was in the thick of his AA treatment. In 1999, he tells his pastor (Stacy Keach) that, even though he had no desire to be President of the United States, it was God's will that he campaign.

The film also takes some time to develop the relationship between W. and his wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), who he met at a friend's barbecue while running for Congress for the first time. In the film, Laura Bush is sweet, understanding, and patient, and it's easy to believe the love she feels for her husband. She seems to regard W. the same way a mother regards a baby taking its first steps: She encourages him endlessly, and she's always there to support him if he should trip and fall somewhere along the way. At that pivotal stage of W.'s life, the world of politics is so new and challenging that he needs all the support he can get.

One of the most interesting things about this film is the structure. Rather than a complete chronological biography, Stone opted for non-linear fragments, starting in 2002 but then flashing back to 1966 before going to 2003, and so on and so forth. He also chose to omit specific events in Bush's life; we see neither the 2000 nor the 2004 election, and we're spared the tragedies of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. This will undoubtedly frustrate certain audiences. I didn't have a problem with it, and that's because this film is about his personality, not his political career. As the pieces of the story come together, we discover the man behind the president: he was a C-average college student who spent most of his time getting drunk; he gambled and went through women; he seemed to take no interest in holding a job; he was always at odds with his disapproving parents, who seemed to favor his younger brother, Jeb.

There's a moment in a 1970s flashback when W. comes home drunk and announces that he was accepted into Harvard Business School. When his mother (Ellen Burstyn) demands to know why he never told them, he admits that he never intended to go--he just wanted to prove to his father (James Cromwell) that he could do it. This doesn't please Poppy Bush very much, and that's because it was his own string pulling that got his son accepted in the first place. There's a definite rivalry between the two, one that W. drags all the way to 2003, the year he decided to invade Iraq. Colin Powell, who in 1991 oversaw Operation Desert Strom along with Dick Cheney, makes it clear that Saddam Hussein had no hand in the 9/11 attacks. That doesn't matter, decides W.; he wants to finish the job his father failed to finish back when he was President. Besides, there's evidence to suggest that Hussein is concealing weapons of mass destruction.

But I'm not convinced he actually believed this to be true. It seemed more likely that he was just going along with what others were saying. Oliver Stone describes George W. Bush as a Western hero so one-tracked, he refuses to back down even when he's wrong. "There's just no examination of the interior life," he said in an "L.A. Weekly" interview. "He doesn't look back. He doesn't regret. He doesn't seem to read very much--or think very much--about what he does." Some may be compelled to take pity on W. after seeing this movie; it paints a picture of a man who wanted nothing more than to own a baseball team. Others, I'm sure, will not have their minds changed one bit. Whatever your reaction, I personally feel that this is one of the year's best films, presenting us with a fascinating character study rather than a scathing political commentary.

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More W. (2008 movie) reviews
review by . May 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
W is mostly vintage Oliver Stone, an outspoken critic of the George W. Bush administration. What we're getting a lot of in W is the old Oliver Stone, the thorn in the right wing's side who fired off Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon instead of a faceless name who in the last ten years has become irrelevant. Although the gun-shy Ollie Stone is still lingering for certain scenes in W, this is mainly the old Vietnam vet charging back into his old familiar turf …
review by . July 31, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I was a little hesitant to actually watch this movie.  I was definitely not a fan of George W. Bush and his administration while he was in office.  After having watched this film I don't like the man any more than before but I feel a little more empathetic toward him as a person.  If this movie is as accurate a portrayal of the life of Bush as Josh Brolin's acting was, then I would suggest all the haters to watch this and see that really George Bush was a kid trying to please …
review by . March 09, 2009
I never thought I would say this, but I was genuinely charmed and touched by the George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's poignant "W."  Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser have crafted a funny, illuminating story of how Bush transformed from college drunkard to U.S. president.  They have successfully humanized a widely hated leader and created a powerfully contemporary movie for an audience that has lived and continues to experience the reign of Bush. The film begins with a few clunky moments …
review by . March 12, 2009
This movie had no business being on the big screen. It was a made-for-tv movie if I've ever seen one.     The acting. Dear Lord, the acting! It's like a bunch of SNL rejects got together and decided to make a movie. No, worse- it's like the MADtv cast did. The actress playing Condi Rice did such an over-the-top imitation, when she spoke I wanted to shoot myself in the ears.... both ears!     Supposedly this movie was "sympathetic" toward the Bush administration …
review by . April 29, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
When I first heard about W., my initial reaction was that there was no way it could be a good movie. Oliver Stone is a good director who has sometimes made great films. However, when it comes to the Presidential movies he's made, JFK and NIXON, his record is atrocious. It's also a well known fact that Stone is not a fan of President George W. Bush and Stone isn't really known for keeping his politics out of his movies. I admit that the trailers for the movie piqued my interest, but instead of watching …
review by . March 08, 2009
W. Poster
When I started to watch this film I went into having high expectations for Josh Brolins portrayal of good ol' GW and for the most part I wasn't disappointed. What I was disappointed with was the writing. See, Brolin, though he really didn't look anything like Bush, acted him very well and sounded a lot like him. Now without trying to sound like I don't know Bush isn't the brightest guy in the world, it seemed like the writing made Bush out to be dumber than I think he actually is. I mean in this …
review by . February 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
W. is a film not many people want to see or even discuss because of the subject matter - the career of the country's most unpopular President, the debacle of the Iraq War, and the decimated economy. There is a certain 'guilt' that comes with criticizing the leader of the country, from both conservatives and liberals: it is not polite to condemn our elected leaders. But now with the Bush legacy daily being pushed into the past (though the after burn of that embarrassing 8 years will never completely …
review by . January 17, 2009
Oliver Stone's latest film, W. is one that will, not surprisingly, attract a lot of controversy. How you feel about it will likely depend on your political views. Me, well, I'm a total flaming liberal, and I found the movie... enjoyable. Great, but not perfect.     The movie might as well be called "George W Lives in His Daddy's Shadow", since most of the movie centers around the feelings of inadequacy that young W feels. We see him going through hazing at his fraternity, running …
review by . January 09, 2009
Oliver Stone's latest film, W. is one that will, not surprisingly, attract a lot of controversy. How you feel about it will likely depend on your political views. Me, well, I'm a total flaming liberal, and I found the movie... enjoyable. Great, but not perfect.     The movie might as well be called "George W Lives in His Daddy's Shadow", since most of the movie centers around the feelings of inadequacy that young W feels. We see him going through hazing at his fraternity, running …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Oliver Stone’sW.is similar to his other movies about American presidents (JFK,Nixon), which is to say these films are much more about Stone’s imagined versions of reported events than they are alleged reenactments. As such,W.is Stone’s case for what he sees as the absurdity of George W. Bush’s ascendance to the White House and especially the arrogant blunder of the Iraq War. Josh Brolin is very good as the miscreant son of George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell), Vice President to Ronald Reagan and 41st president of the United States. Adrift in a sea of booze and squandered opportunities, the younger Bush is largely driven by a need for his disapproving father’s love and respect, which never truly arrives. Becoming a hatchet man for Bush Sr.’s administration, “W” (as his wife, Laura--played by Elizabeth Banks--call him) meets Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and heads toward the Texas governorship, despite his father’s preference that the more golden son, Jeb, get all the family’s support in his Florida gubernatorial bid.

Told in broken chronology, W. focuses on Bush’s post-9/11 path to waging a “preventive war” in Iraq despite no hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction to justify it. The major players in W’s administration--Rove, Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton), and especially Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss)--all participate in closed meetings that look and sound like ...

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Director: Oliver Stone
Genre: Drama, Special Interest
Screen Writer: Stanley Weiser
DVD Release Date: February 10, 2009
Runtime: 129 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate
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