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October 2008

by Kam Williams


Distributor: Lionsgate
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Stanley Weiser
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Paul Cantelon
Cast: Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn, Scott Glenn, Toby Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton
Rating: Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, smoking, alcohol abuse and disturbing war images.

Running Time: 2 hrs 9 min


Oliver Stone has never been afraid to court controversy, and this bio-pic is no exception. The iconoclastic director has made presidential docudramas before (JFK and Nixon), but W. is the first about one still in office.

This incendiary offering is apt to be appreciated or reviled along party lines for it paints a most unflattering picture of George W. Bush as a spoiled-rotten nincompoop who has been a miserable failure at his every endeavor. For, once it breezes past his early adult years frittered away as a boozing, womanizing embarrassment to his family, it settles down to focus on his copious shortcomings, first, as a businessman, and then as a politician.

Along the way, we’re treated mostly to W’s familiar fiascos, such as his much-publicized, ill-fated forays into the oil and baseball businesses. So, the movie doesn’t really make any new revelations, unless you were unaware that he got a girl pregnant, was arrested for drunk driving and has been a bitter disappoint to his father (James Cromwell), former president George Herbert Walker Bush.

The film is at its best only after a Born Again Junior cleans up his act, marries Laura (Elizabeth Banks), and makes the fateful decision to enter politics. Once he ascends to the presidency, we find him surrounded in the White House by a cast of infamous characters including Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Vice President Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Dr. Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and CIA Director George Tenet (Bruce McGill).

What makes the story fascinating at this juncture is that it takes a “fly-on-the-wall” approach to confirm the country’s worst fears about the shady shenanigans among members of the administration. For example, we see Rove as the ever-scheming brains behind the throne while Cheney is exposed as a power-hungry maniac who felt that the Patriot Act didn’t go far enough. Rice, Powell and Tenet are presented as weak-kneed sycophants who consciously compromised their integrity by beating the drums of war, knowing full well that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Still, the worst criticism is reserved for Bush, who is positioned as a clueless chimpleton-in-chief more than willing to hand the reigns of government over to his vice president so he could be free to eat junk food and watch sports on TV. A damning biography magnifying the worst traits of the president with the lowest approval rating in history.

Talk about beating a man when he’s down in the polls!