Anthony's Film Review

W. (2008)

The casting for this biopic of the 43rd U.S. President is rather strange, but the film is still OK...

When it comes to biographical films, casting is very important. You have to find actors who not only can embody the personalities and habits of their real-life counterparts, but also have at least some physical resemblance. Ideally, there would be no distinction between the actor and the character (think of the 2004 biopic Ray, with Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, as a great example). But in reality, it's already an accomplishment to find an actor who comes close enough to the person being portrayed. This is especially easy when the story takes place a long time before the film is made.

Oliver Stone's 2008 biopic W., starring Josh Brolin as President George W. Bush, has the same challenge but with a twist. It includes current events still fresh in the people's minds, not just events of the past. It's one thing to release this film a few decades after the 43rd President's tenure. It's another to release it during the final days of Bush's second term and the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. Unless Stone's film is a documentary based entirely on historical footage, a biopic of Bush released in 2008 would have to feature performances so convincing that the movie looks no different from a documentary.

Instead, we have to settle for mostly non-lookalike actors. This includes Brolin as Bush. Whenever I see him in the scenes taking place after 9/11, I don't see President George W. Bush. I see President Josh Brolin attempting to capture Bush's accents and mannerisms. Yes, I give Brolin credit for at least trying and for doing some research on his role, but still, I wanted more realism. On the other hand, Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Dick Cheney looks and sounds a lot like the real-life Cheney, but he's the exception.

In fact, here's a rundown of some of the other characters in this film. Thandie Newton as national security advisor Condoleeza Rice: looks sort of like Rice, but her manner of speaking isn't the same. Jeffrey Wright as Secretary of State Colin Powell: barely looks and sounds like Powell. Scott Glenn as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: no resemblance, and you only know it's Rumsfeld when Bush addresses him. James Cromwell as George Bush Sr. (41st President): same as Rumsfeld. Toby Jones as chief of staff Karl Rove: barely. Bruce McGill as CIA director George Tenet: actually, the two kind of look similar. And Elizabeth Banks as W.'s wife-to-be Laura: not too bad, though the middle-aged Laura still looks like the young Laura.

As for the story, it jumps back and forth between moments at the White House, including discussion of the rationale for invading Iraq, and moments in Bush's younger days, including his drinking habits and conversion to Christianity. For the most part, everything that is happening is stuff we know about Bush already. The parts about his earlier life are still interesting because they present Bush as a much more regular guy. Nevertheless, the entire script seems focused on presenting facts without creating too much of an emotional connection with the audience.

Given that W. is a political film, it is natural to form certain opinions based on one's political stance. Although I cannot say how extensive Stone's research into George W. Bush was or how objective Stone attempts to be, I will not be surprised if conservatives criticize this film for having a slight liberal slant. I thought of this during the scene where Dick Cheney explains how much oil, and therefore power, the Middle East possesses, after which Bush suggests that selling the Iraq war to the American people cannot be based on an idea as unfamiliar to the public as oil. What's definitely clear, though, is that the film is not overtly biased or judgmental, so it shouldn't be too offensive to certain members of the audience.

Basically, W. is an average movie that could be improved, though only somewhat, if the cast were much more convincing instead of being like a Saturday Night Live skit portraying the Bush administration but without any jokes or laughs. As it stands, the movie still paints a not-too-boring picture of the 43rd President for anyone who has at least some interest in the man. Whether Stone really had any political purpose behind this film, perhaps to influence the 2008 presidential election, I can't say. At least this attempt to bring George W. Bush's life to the silver screen is all right.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about W., visit the Internet Movie Database.


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