The film producer Oliver Stone has made more than his share of biopics that have created considerable controversy. Some of his films feature elements that are intentionally mythic and hugely debatable. I have seen most of Stone's films, movies like Nixon, JFK and the war movies. Stone's most recent film is W. I was certain when I saw that this film was being released that I would not like it, at least until I began to read a few reviews. I then saw it several weeks ago and found it a sympathetic and engaging portrait that plays with some really big ideas that make President George W. Bush look like a personable and warmly human figure who is also tragic. I then saw Governor Mike Huckabee interview Oliver Stone on his Fox News Channel program. I found the interview very interesting. To hear Stone explain what he was trying to accomplish in this film and how he wrote and produced it was quite convincing to me. Huckabee had issues with the film, as I did, but he liked it. So did I.

Stone tells the Bush story through three parts, or three big story lines. The lead character, who plays W., is actor Josh Brolin. Brolin
These three story lines are not told chronologically but in various flash back and fast-forward types of ways. He deals with Bush the playboy, the party guy who drank too much and never amounted to much, never keeping a real job for more than months at a time. He then deals with Bush the convert to Christian faith. This is done with rare sensitivity, and even a measure of respect, at least in my view. Finally he deals with Bush, the man who never got his father's approval and who lacked the innate ability to make good decisions in leadership, especially with regard to the war in Iraq. This Bush, still desperately seeking and needing his father's approval, seems to have struggled with who he was his entire life. (W. is much like his mother Barbara while Jeb is more like his father, George H. W. Bush. Since I have read a good deal about this family I think Stone gets this relationship about right.) Even if you disagree with Oliver Stone's portrayal, and much of this is fiction since we do not know exactly what the president was thinking or saying at a particular point in time, the film does give a relatively fair treatment of the semi-complicated personality of the world's most powerful man.

I have had several people tell me the film bored them. Others, who love George W. Bush and are offended by such portrayals, find it terribly unfair or, in most cases, will never watch the film. It didn't bore me at all and I confess I rather liked it. I saw it as fictional-biography and thus as one person's interpretation of the president. This is precisely what Stone told Huckabee he intended to do. Stone is an artist, for better or for worse, not a historian. What surprised me was how close to reality I sensed the big picture got in the end. It is clearly Oliver Stone's best such movie.
I recommend you see it if you understand the premise and can handle the obvious fictional elements, which is a way of saying that all literalists should stay away. Most literalists do not like novels or films anyway so the warning is probably unnecessary.

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  1. Glenn December 1, 2008 at 7:11 am

    John, Thanks for this review! I now plan to see this film. The last review I read said films like this should be banned when our country is at war, as it demoralizes the troops. The review made this film sound much more of a parody. Glad to see you saw W’s humanity.

  2. Gene Redlin December 1, 2008 at 8:37 am

    I wonder if Mr Stone is hard at Work on the Obama film?
    Transliterate the same contentions and allusions to father figures and now lets see how he portrays them.
    I don’t think we will see anything like this. Only some heroic tale.
    Why are we treated to a marginalization attempt while a sitting president is still in office during a war demonstrated in Mumbai last week and release it during the heat of an election cycle unless the intent was to influence toward an agenda?
    I know Mr Stone doesn’t pretend to be unbiased or fair. That’s not his job, but I have a policy, never sanction behavior you don’t want repeated. I won’t be seeing the film until I can rent it for a buck somewhere.

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