Arriving early to catch a screening of Oliver Stone's new film W. gave me the opportunity to overhear one very wise reaction from a woman who had just seen it, "Well, no one comes across very well in that film," she told the man walking next to her. This, I came to learn, was exactly the point.
Director Oliver Stone (JFK, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July) and writer Stanley Weiser (Wall Street, you remember "that one." "Greed is good.") have crafted a very broad portrait of George W. Bush woven together with enough of a psychological red thread to make him tragic and even slightly sympathetic.
The casting is clever. Anyone who loves great acting would go see Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The Last Picture Show) portraying the formidable Barbara Bush or Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America, Basquiat, Broken Flowers) playing a war-wary Colin Powell in just about anything. Then there's Richard Dreyfuss who doesn't play Dick Cheney; he is Dick Cheney (and I'll betcha he would do a mean -- no pun intended -- John McCain if asked). Toby Jones rocks as Rove; Stacy Keach and Elizabeth Banks are natural and believable as the Rev. Earle Banks and Laura Bush who rescue Dubya from alcoholism and aimlessness. James Cromwell mostly hits his marks as George H. W. Bush, which is no easy task because we know H. Dubya so well. In her posture and mannerisms, Thandie Newton nails the part of Condoleeza Rice. The make up, hair and wardrobe are amazing, the writing for this role however is another story.
The most difficult job, of course, goes to Josh Brolin (so wonderful so recently in No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, and American Gangster) who is virtually in every scene. Brolin plays Dubya equally well using the superficial, born-again, Texas bravado displayed to the public and the deeper, private east-coast vulnerability shared with screen wife Banks.
The story is no surprise. We were there after all. To recap it would be to take away the audience's authorship of and role in it. It's true, no one came across very well in W. least of all us. If Dubya and his oil-greedy, power-hungry henchmen are responsible for two disastrous terms in office, we are to blame for (at least) the second. Fooled once and fooled twice were we. And if John McCain represents a Bush third term, which for all intents and purposes he does, will we be fooled thrice?
Fast forward to a dramatization of Inaugural Day 2009. Do we want Richard Dreyfuss to play Senator John McCain seated in the bleachers merely looking on or President John McCain with his left hand on the Bible and right hand raised toward you know who?
Intended or not, the W. story is not over. The final act is in the voters' hands. Yes we can save ourselves from knowing what kind of good, American sandwiches Oliver Stone might have Dreyfuss and Tina Fey scarf down together for the White House luncheon scenes in his sequel to this film.