Review: Oliver Stone takes fairly straightforward approach in 'W.'

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oliver Stone's new film about George W. Bush is simply called "W."

Like the short and simple title, the film is rather simple and straightforward. It is light on comedy -- well, I guess that depends on your point of view -- and it's light on drama. It's basically an even-handed, creative biography that follows Bush from his Yale days to 2004.

You might scoff that Stone would make a film about Bush and refrain from attacking or making fun, but it's true. The film is more or less an account of a life. It does take quite a few liberties with private conversations and personal relationships that Stone could never know, and I'm sure conservatives will find it hard to watch or stomach, but for Stone, Hollywood, the liberal elite or whatever current epithet might be in use, the film is a somewhat average, low-key biopic.

Since everyone knows the plot, I'll focus more on the big picture, so to speak. I think Stone's film, if it has or needs a reason to exist, was made to posit two points: Bush was unprepared to be president, and the very rich and connected feel not only that they should get what they want but that it should also be there for their taking.

As for being unprepared, Stone's point of view is more sympathetic than accusatory. "W." shows a Bush that wanted more than anything just to impress his father. He went to Yale but had no ambition. He went to work in the oil fields but found the work too hard and boring. With dad's help he got into Harvard Business, but he didn't have a knack for it. When he took part ownership of a major-league baseball team, his father thought it was nice but was more concerned with his other son Jeb and his future career in politics. Finally, when W. ran for Congress, and then later for governor, dad could only be disappointed at W. for ruining Jeb's prospects.

As for the extraordinary wealth of the Bush family, Stone follows the conventional wisdom that status and power has its privileges. W. wanted to work on Wall Street, be an oil man, be baseball commissioner, be a congressman, be a governor, be president of the United States. But unlike us average Joes, who sometimes dream big and know that hard work and discipline can sometimes lift us up to those positions, the Bushes of the world have a real opportunity to pick and choose; and though merit often, and gratefully, plays a part in that choice, it sometimes doesn't.

I'll finish off by quoting a liberal friend who went to the film ready and willing to be entertained in the fullest sense: "Hmm. You know, I kinda feel sorry for him. It's kind of sad."

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