George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) was a restless and rebellious young man, prone to drinking and going from job to job. He meets and marries pretty Laura (Elizabeth Banks) but it's not until he's 40 that he discovers religion and turns his life around, also discovering his powerful will. A keen follower of sport, he becomes a baseball team owner and a two-term Governor of Texas, all the while seeking the approval of his father, (James Cromwell) who seems to find some value in Junior when he asks him to help in his run for the Presidency. And some years later, he watches as his son, W., also reaches the White House. In his first term, George W. Bush seals his place in history with his decision to topple Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's a bit like watching history in the making, only the story hasn't ended. A fascinating and largely sympathetic insight into the life of George W. Bush, Oliver Stone, who has already made films about JFK and Nixon, makes us feel as though we are watching the story of a well intentioned good man who has been badly misunderstood. But the film feels far from being propaganda material as it mixes the personal with the politics and in a riveting way. First and foremost, W. dazzles by Josh Brolin's astounding performance, but the film itself entertains and engages thoroughly from start to finish.
Josh Brolin's portrayal of George W. Bush is so darned good that it's as if we are a fly on the wall buzzing about the White House, being privy to the most confidential of encounters. The physical resemblance is astounding, while the mannerisms (the squint of the eye, the downturn of the mouth, the wink) are so familiar that it is almost disconcerting. We are in the oval office, in conference with close aides such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, in the bedroom with Laura Bush and in confrontation with George Bush Snr. It's a dizzying couple of hours and one in which we feel we have an insight into the man who has been in the White House for the past eight years.
'You have the capacity to do anything you see fit,' Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney tells the President as W. munches enthusiastically into a sandwich. Stanley Weiser's script follows the lead up and beyond of the invasion of Iraq ('My dream is to see peace break out through the Middle East'), before the film goes into flashback as it follows the young George Bush through college, his announcement of his political intentions over bourbon and cards in 1977 and his fortunate meeting of his future wife (Elisabeth Banks, excellent) at a garden barbeque. W's pick-up line, asking for her number not her vote, is quite endearing; she calls him a devil in a white hat. We are there as he puts the cork in the bottle and addresses his drinking problem as he becomes a Born-Again Christian. The ongoing conflict with his father (commandingly played by James Cromwell) is never resolved and it is clear that George Jnr never gets the approval he so badly wants. As Ellen Burstyn's steely Barbara Bush says of her son, who she claims is like her, is that he is loud and has a short fuse.
But the nuts and the bolts of the film lie in the political arena and I love the way music and songs are used as illustrations at pivotal moments. Songs like Robin Hood when W. voices his noble intentions and The Yellow Rose of Texas as the symbolic statue of Saddam Hussein crashes to the ground. Stone has handpicked his cast and they are all superb. Scott Glenn makes a fine Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey Wright a credible Colin Powell (initially against the invasion of Iraq) and Toby Jones' wily Karl Rove, who schools W. in how to respond to the media on any subject. Perhaps the most memorable characterisation is that of Thandie Newton's Condaleeza Rice, who captures Rice's unusual stance and manner of interaction in an almost eerie way.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's a brave and foolish man who makes a biopic of a US President while the man is still in office, but Oliver Stone is not known for timidity. And yet, the filmmaker's ferocious intellect and cinematic power is perhaps unexpectedly restrained and balanced as he reveals essential snapshots and records milestones in the life of George W. Bush. It's a screenplay saturated with research: Stone and writer Stanley Weiser chewed through at least 14 books on the Bush family and Presidency not to mention countless hours of footage. In the end, we have a movie that's like a photo album made of moving pictures, focusing on his early, untamed life, the extraordinary turnaround and finally the first term.
Told in flashbacks and forwards, the story of W. is made more compelling by its immediacy and the sense of contemporary history being fleshed out with detail from the inside. The father-son relationship is a constant, intimate subplot, while the White House sessions are riveting (if you're interested in current affairs and the world's political existence) for their ability to not only let us eavesdrop on matters of importance to our lives, but as they illuminate the film's subject.
The cast is everything you'd want: Josh Brolin captures the body language of W. with casual ease (as a Texan would), Elizabeth Banks is endearingly low key as Laura, Geoffrey Wright is compelling as argumentative Colin Powell and Richard Dreyfuss is unnervingly unnerving as Dick Cheney. All the cast, even in minor roles, deliver punchy characters, and Oliver Stone's acidic humour is evident in his choice of underplay music, from Robin Hood to the Yellow Rose of Texas and the closing credits Bob Dylan hymn, With God on Our Side.
W. is not a traditional biopic; it doesn't even have a story arc. But it does have a beginning, a middle and an end, and it shows great integrity in its use of material about a man who has aroused so much anger and mistrust. Stone, to his credit, plays it straight, avoiding the Michael Moore syndrome and making something of lasting value as a result.
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CAST: Josh Brolin, Toby Jones, Dennis Boutsikaris, Geoffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Scott Glen, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce McGill, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Ritter
PRODUCER: Bill Block, Eric Kopeloff, Paul Hanson, Mortiz Borman
DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone
SCRIPT: Stanley Weiser
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phedon Papamichael
EDITOR: Julie MOnroe
MUSIC: Paul Cantelon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Derek Hill
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 2009
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.