ENTERTAINMENT
11/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

First "W." Review: "Unusual And Inescapably Interesting"

Oliver Stone's unusual and inescapably interesting �W.� feels like a rough draft of a film it might behoove him to remake in 10 or 15 years. The director�s third feature to hinge on a modern-era presidency, after 'JFK' and 'Nixon,' offers a clear and plausible take on the current chief executive�s psychological makeup and, considering Stone's reputation and Bush�s vast unpopularity, a relatively even-handed, restrained treatment of recent politics. For a film that could have been either a scorching satire or an outright tragedy, 'W.' is, if anything, overly conventional, especially stylistically. The picture possesses dramatic and entertainment value, but beyond serious filmgoers curious about how Stone deals with all this president�s men and women, it's questionable how wide a public will pony up to immerse itself in a story that still lacks an ending.

Heavily researched but made very quickly, pic went before the cameras in May and is being rushed into release before the November election. 'W.' has the benefit of filmmaking energy and good performances where they count, beginning with Josh Brolin�s arresting turn in the leading role. One can't say Brolin is George W. Bush, the real one is still all too noticeably with us, but the actor offers a more than reasonable physical approximation and an interpretation that�s convincingly boisterous and determined. Aspects of the man unknown to the public are put forward that may or may not be true, but are sufficiently believable to make one go with them in a movie.

Keep reading Variety's 'W.' review

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Brolin is pitch-perfect, and though he doesn't look that much like W., he creates a memorable character that might not be W. but has vitality in his certitude and confusion. The same goes for Cromwell, who isn't so insistent at mimicking the 41st president as catching his patient, patrician nature.

Dreyfuss is scary good as a Machiavellian Cheney. Wright's Powell and Toby Jones' Karl Rove are dead-on. Yet Glenn doesn't quite get the smugness of the former secretary of defense.

The women are less successful. Newton is stiff and unconvincing as Rice, while Banks and Ellen Burstyn don't seem to know what to do with Laura and Barbara Bush.

All tech credits are solid as Stone tones down the visual razzle-dazzle to zero in on character. What he seems to want is Greek tragedy. But what he gets is Texas melodrama.