Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This past Friday evening, Dave and I were hanging out in our living room when we heard a loud POP! and the lights flashed off. Great. Another power outage. After I finished cooking supper to the glow of a couple of flashlights, and after we consumed that supper, Dave and I decided to go see a movie. When we got to the theater, we checked our options and decided to see the new Oliver Stone flick, W.

If you want the short review, here it is: either rent (or borrow) the DVD, or don't bother watching the movie at all. You won't know the difference either way.

If you want a slightly longer review, here it is:

W is, by far, the worst of Stone's "American presidents" films. JFK was the best, and Nixon falls somewhere in the middle. The film opens with George W. Bush's fraternity initiation at Yale University, then bounces back and forth to tell four stories:

1. the first story recounts W's irresponsible and alcohol-soaked youth, his failed business career, his conversion to evangelical Christianity and his rise in the political arena;
2. the second story documents the process that led to the Iraq War and W's premature (to say the least) declaration of Mission Accomplished;
3. the third story examines W's stormy relationship with his father;
4. the fourth story explores the love story of W. & Laura.

The events that are portrayed throughout the film have been well documented by journalists and authors, so I can't fault the film's accuracy. My problem is that Stone didn't bring anything fresh to the theater - no unique psychological or political insights - just more of the same stuff that has saturated the American media for several years. The film felt more like a documentary than a drama.

The acting was, to be charitable, uneven. Richard Dreyfuss did well in his role as Dick Cheney. He had the teeth-gritting and the snarl down perfectly, and his soft-spoken manner was appropriately chilling. James Cromwell also did well as W's father, whom he portrayed as continually disappointed in, yet struggling to support, his mediocre son. Dreyfuss and Cromwell are two of the most talented actors on the silver screen today and, not surprisingly, they delivered again in this movie. Josh Brolin did not do quite as well in the title role. He successfully mimicked W's gestures and accent, but he did not capture W's personality.

And the women! Oh, man, this is painful to write. I think maybe Ellyn Burstyn did okay as Barbara Bush, but it's hard to tell because she only got about five minutes (I'm being generous) of screen time. Elizabeth Banks presented a pretty Laura Bush with the personality of an empty beer bottle. There's nothing to admire about her performance, period. But, brace yourselves, the worst is yet to come: Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condoleeza Rice was outrageously, pathetically and maddeningly cartoonish. Her performance was so bad that I wondered if she thought she was performing in a Saturday Night Live parody rather than a drama that is supposed to be taken, you know, seriously! If I'd had a gun, I would have shot the screen full of holes every time she opened her mouth. The real Condoleeza Rice must be livid at being portrayed this way. I would be.

The good news is that, by the time we got back home, the power was back on. The even better news is that, now that we've seen W, we won't ever have to do so again.


Dave said...

Newton makes Rice out to be an empty headed yes woman rather than being an intelligent articulate woman. Dreyfuss does a wonderful job in portraying Cheney as a chilling manipulator with a conquest agenda. One subtle element that comes out at the end of the movie is that W's father seems to regret that his son is the President.

Barbara said...

Thanks for the review. I was wondering if this was a movie I should check out. I guess I'll wait.

Catharine said...

I was hoping to see it, too. I think I will wait for the television version so I can keep the flicker close by just in case.