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W. (Full Screen) (2008)

A movie directed by Oliver Stone

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George W. Bush as a tragic hero

  • Mar 9, 2009
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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 before diving straight into Bush's rise.  There's a silly motif of Bush (Josh Brolin) imagining a crowd cheering for him in an empty baseball field followed by an over-the-top scene where Bush and his cohorts are writing the "Axis of Evil" speech.  Soon enough we see young Bush initiated at his Yale fraternity and get the sense he's directionless and a disappointment to his father George Sr. (James Cromwell).  George Sr. is investing his care and support for his older sibling Jeb and finds Bush flaky and destructive to the family name. 

Intermixed with Bush's past are moments of him in office prior to initiating the Iraq War.  In one memorable scene, we see Dick Cheney's (Richard Dreyfuss) sly manipulation over Bush while they have lunch in the White House.  He asks Bush if he would eat his ham and cheese sandwich if there was a 1% chance the lettuce had a disease.  Bush agrees, we laugh and the early mindset behind a pre-emptive attack becomes clear. 

In the mid-80s and midway through the film, Bush becomes a born again Christian – sacrificing alcohol and desiring to make something of himself.  The crux of his reform stems from his father's lack of appreciation and love, making Bush's deep-seated insecurities to impress his father remarkably sympathetic.  If only it did not lead him to war.

He runs for governor of Texas coached by his longtime advisor Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and finds more confrontation when his father tells him its not the right time and his mother (Ellen Burstyn) claims he's too gutsy and temperamental like herself.  Later as president, he's planning how to convince the American people that WMDs exist in Iraq and everything goes downhill from there.

Brolin valiantly portrays Bush as personable, driven, awkward and prone to malapropisms.  He's in nearly every scene and never ceases to impress and communicate Bush's underlying troubles.  We laugh at him when he fumbles on old sayings, "If you fool me once…" or talks with his mouth full while wolfing down a sandwich.  We are touched when he confides to his supportive wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) in their White House bedroom that he wanted to be a good guy fighting the evil outside America.  Oscars take note. 

Supporting performances range from strong hits to caricatures.  Cromwell shines with toughness and hidden insecurities as the film's antagonist.  Dreyfuss expertly personifies Cheney's look and attitude, with a particularly shocking moment in a boardroom presentation of why Iran is the oil powerhouse the U.S. must control.  Banks hits a few good notes as Laura, but her part is underwritten.  The same goes for Burstyn, who still manages to bring impressive maternal power to Barbara Bush.  Rounding out the Washington group is a capable Jeffrey Wright as the dissenting Colin Powell who goes along with the team despite knowing better.  Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice is overacted and would be more at home in an SNL sketch.

Overall, whether you're pro-Bush or not, this movie packs enough humor and drama to fascinate audiences. 

3.5 out of 4 stars. 

("W." is now out on DVD)


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April 07, 2009
In every interview Stone has always said that he makes no claim to be presenting "facts "(especially in JFK) , that what he's doing is historical fiction. One thing I have noticed is that many of the people who object the most vociferously to his films haven't actually seen most of them. NIXON in particular drew some nasty criticism from people who openly admitted that they hadn't (and never would) see the film. I thought NIXON was nothing short of miraculous since it actually made me sympathetic towards the man. "W.' wasn't that good, but it certainly didn't do a hatchet job on the man and I suspect it might have been accurate on his motivations which is what it really set out to examine. Anyone who takes as gosple anything they see in a movie has some very serious problems. I think Stone's films are merely meant to ask questions.
April 13, 2009
I too enjoyed Nixon, though I think "W." had more truth than people give it credit concerning Bush's motivations to aspire to be a president. Stone and his screenwriter researched 8 books on the president to figure out what were Bush's reasons for wanting to be president and then to jump into the Iraq War. For me, I trusted the filmmaker and can very easily see the truth in Bush's motivations. As for the movie's comedy, well, that's just for entertainment, but isn't that what historical bio pics are all about? Truth and analysis mixed in with humor and entertainment.
April 13, 2009
I'm with you there. When I said I didn't think "W." was as good as NIXON I meant it wasn't as strong a film . For me NIXON was (as JFK had been) a very visceral experience, whereas "W." was a much more clinical film.
March 16, 2009
I agree with Woo, Oliver Stone's a talented filmmaker, but he chooses to take great liberties with historical truths for dramatic purposes. I'm not against this, but at the same time he never really acknowledges that he's not telling things from a realistic perspective. Besides, it seems odd to me that a supposed Left-wing director would make a film that humanizes the worst Republican President of our country in the past century.
May 01, 2009
Why should it be odd, Count? Does everyone have to be held to making only films that always represent only their own political point of view? Normally we demonize film makers who do that (see comments below). His fim NIXON humanized him as well. I actually felt sympathetic towards the man after seeing that. And don't you think its sort of sad that anyone would ever consider learning history for movies? I mean seriously. I've seen several interviews with him and he's always maintained that his films were historical fiction.
May 01, 2009
True, but there are a lot of stupid people in the world who think that if a film is set in real historical period, then the events and the figures being portrayed must also be as they see them in said film. Obviously, we know better.
May 04, 2009
Without taking the high road about dumber people thinking historical films are factual and spot-on realistic I loosely quote my friend, Professor Watson, a UCLA screenwriting professor: "When I want a tuna sandwich, I wouldn't go to a carpenter and when I want a lesson on history, I wouldn't go to the movies."
March 16, 2009
great write up. I'm not really a big fan of Stone when it comes to historical accuracy, but I've always been curious about this movie. I will bump it up in my netflix queve because you made sound really interesting. Although to be honest, I may have a problem accepting Brolin as Bush.
April 07, 2009
Its not as hard to accept him as you might think. Granted he never does master the deer-in -the -headlight look, but aside from that...
March 09, 2009
I don't trust Oliver Stone's take on history and, with the exception of maybe "Platoon," have found his movies to be ludicrous and delusional. But your review of "W" makes me curious enough to take a look at this one. Great review.
March 09, 2009
Thanks! I think Stone was not trying to replicate history on screen, but instead portray Bush in a human light. Some of the side characters are lacking, but Stone and Brolin do a great job of capturing a side of Bush I found very sympathetic.
March 09, 2009
I've avoided W because I was afraid of how Stone's heavy hand would smear the story. It sounds like there's more nuance there than I might have expected, though.
March 09, 2009
The story is based off of extensive research of biographies on Bush and in particular his motivations to run for president. I'd be interested to hear what you think after seeing it.
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 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 …
review by . October 17, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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Eric Horwitz ()
Ranked #243
Ciao!     My world in a nutshell: Born in the humble beach town of Ventura, CA I went to UCLA with ambitions to pursue journalism and film. I studied literature and picked up Italian … more
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About this movie


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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