I didn’t expect much from this biopic of the sitting president, starring Josh Brolin as Junior himself. Although I’ve enjoyed some of Oliver Stone’s films in the past ( JFK and Nixon, I couldn’t sit through Natural Born Killers ), I was pretty sure W. wouldn’t exactly be Academy Award material. The only Oscar should go to James Cromwell, who plays Bush Sr., for his performance of a serious actor participating in what can only be described as a two-hour Saturday Night Live skit.
The movie opens with a cabinet meeting featuring the usual suspects: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and, naturally, Karl Rove. The topic? Iraq. WMDs. Iran. The Axis of Evil. The decision to go to war.
What could have been a powerful scene is reduced to an amateur caricature sketch, which is an apt description for the entire film. Cheney is played by Richard Dreyfuss in a fat suit sporting a permanent sneer. Thandie Newton plays then-National Security Advisor Rice, doing her best to impersonate a bad impersonation. Jeffrey Wright is a laughable Secretary Colin Powell, in bad makeup and overly grim facial expressions. Karl Rove is played by the talented Toby Jones, who received an award for his portrayal of Truman Capote in Infamous. As Mr. Capote would say, Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
Although Josh Brolin makes for a pretty convincing Bush, in both appearance and mannerisms, he is constrained by over-the-top scenes and rehashed stereotypes. We see him drinking and partying at Yale and beyond. We see him repeatedly clashing with his father. We watch him turn his life around with religion and Laura (played by the too young, too pretty Elizabeth Banks). We even get to witness the pretzel-choking incident. Halfway through the film, I was looking at my watch and praying that it would all be over soon.
Certainly the life and presidency of George W. Bush will be examined and analyzed for years to come. But that calls for a much more historical perspective—one impossible to obtain while the subject is still in the White House.
A much better alternative to W. is the documentary Crawford. In a heartfelt commentary about a small town forever changed by a certain rancher, real people play themselves.