Movies Reviews Oliver Stone

Release Date: Oct. 17
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone
Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss
Studio/Running Time: Lions Gate Entertainment, 129 mins.

One of the unwritten rules for a biopic is that its subject’s accomplishments should already be completed.Controversy has surrounded Oliver Stone’s W. ever since it was announced, due to its breach of this rule in covering the highly charged President while he’s still in power.But a point the film makes is that George W. Bush already wrote his legacy before his second term began, so this target should be fair game.Others might argue that Bush doesn’t deserve a fair depiction, and along those lines, rather than a true biopic, W. is a satirical portrait of the presidency that sacrifices accuracy for visceral laughs.

W. has two beginnings, one with Bush on the verge of invading Iraq and another that starts off in his college years.Both plotlines move forward until Bush’s past has both literally and figuratively caught up with his present, and as they converge, Bush doubts (or fails todoubt) the path he has taken.But this is a rewritten, comic history of both Bush’s history and what he is like.Nearly every malapropism he’s uttered can be found somewhere in the script, while his associates are less characters and more types played up for maximum laughs.Colin Powell and Dick Cheney are the angel and devil of Bush’s conscience, with Cheney ultimately overpowering the compromised Powell.Even worse is Thandie Newton’s sub-Mad TV impression of Condoleezza Rice that’s as jarring as it is incorrect.

The film’s main problem, though, is that it’s a satire instead of a true comedy.Because of this distinction, the project can’t decide on a tone, creating dramatic situations with Bush’s alcohol problems and his relationship with Bush Sr., only to snap right back to comedy.Its best moments are when the fiction is mixed with real coverage, but these also act as abrupt reminders of just how far from reality the rest of the feature has gone. An all-out farce about the presidency would be much more satisfying than W.’s nearly plotless series of set-pieces that waver back and forth between the types of film they want to be.

It’s a strange complaint, but if anything, W. isn’t quite as bitter or shrill as it should be.The gloves aren’t left on, but subtlety has never been Stone’s strong point (he literally has a character call Bush a devil in a cowboy hat at one point), and the broad, at-times unfocused commentary he gives isn’t what feels promised.W.’s issue isn’t its political statements; it’s that there isn’t a satisfactory film there to back them up.

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