W. Oliver Stone

W. Oliver Stone
With a snarky marketing campaign ("A life Misunderestimated”) and the director of JFK behind the camera, Oliver Stone’s biography of George W. Bush doesn’t look like a candidate for the most level-headed film about everyone’s least favourite sitting president. But surprisingly, Stone’s George W. Bush comes across not as the sinister, manipulative caricature of the left but instead as a well-meaning dolt who’s in way over his head.

Stone’s fair-minded approach is admirable but so much of the film is so drag-y and innocuous that I actually found myself longing for the cinematic rabble-rouser of yore.

The story structure alternates between flashbacks of Bush’s early life and the Bush White House leading up to Iraq. Aside from Bush’s strained relationship with his father (which is familiar but still compelling), the flashback scenes cover all the important moments quickly and superficially.

If you’ve skimmed Bush’s Wikipedia article, you’ll learn nothing new. The scenes leading up to Iraq are awkward and crudely written, with Stone forcing himself to cram so many facts into so little time that the dialogue becomes stilted and clumsy.

The celebrity impersonations are all over the map. Faced with portraying the most recognizable man in the world, Josh Brolin does an impressive job, convincing even in his scenes as a college freshman. Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush), Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney), Toby Jones (Karl Rove) and especially James Cromwell (George H.W. Bush) are similarly persuasive. However, Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell) and Thandie Newton (Condoleezza Rice) seem to be auditioning for a bad SNL sketch.

The last half-hour, devoted exclusively to the war and its aftermath, ditches the objectivity of the preceding 90 minutes for a more dynamic approach reminiscent of Nixon. These scenes are sloppy and heavy-handed but they have enough spark and inventiveness to make me wish that Stone took a similar approach for the entire movie, cutting the flashbacks and concentrating solely on Bush’s presidency.

For a biopic about a sitting president whose life story is common knowledge, a mere recitation of the facts does not make for engaging viewing. I never thought I’d say this but after watching W., I wished that Oliver Stone let himself make an Oliver Stone movie. (Maple)