As the recent events of the 2008 presidential race become popular fodder for late night comedy and sketch routines, the bumbles of the current administration seem to be slowly fading from memory. But Saturday Night Live has nothing on Oliver Stone. Famous for his leftist cinematic controversies, Stone has delivered to the American public "W.," a satirical journey through the life of the 43rd U.S. president, beginning with his Yale fraternity days and concluding with his first term in office and the present war in Iraq.
The opening scene of the movie finds Bush, played by Josh Brolin, in the Oval Office surrounded by a myriad of familiar faces: Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and a lurking Dick Cheney, played convincingly by Richard Dreyfuss. The conversation centers on the "Axis of Evil" and how best to convince the American people that Iraq and Iran are relevant to the events of September 11, 2001. While the subject matter is serious and something that most at Bowdoin are familiar with, one can't help but expect Bush to turn to the camera and scream, "LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!" The mannerisms, physical characteristics, and demonstrative traits of these household names are so exaggerated, so drawn out, and so underhandedly exploited by Stone that the entire cohort plays out like a parody of itself.
Most of the film fails to reveal anything new about Bush's early life or his administration. Jumping back 40 years to 1966, Stone portrays Bush's college years as boozy, destructive, and unproductive. Bush's alcoholism and his struggle to stay sober remain a prevalent theme throughout the rest of the movie. The audience is also introduced to George H. W. Bush and his relationship with his less-than-motivated progeny. James Cromwell, whom students may recognize for his role as a kind-hearted farmer in the movie "Babe," is unconvincing as the elder Bush; despite his best efforts, he plays the role of the disapproving father without much conviction. Laura Bush, played by the unlikely Elizabeth Banks, known for her comedic roles in movies such as "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," works to show the unflustered and more thoughtful side of her husband.
Stone uses many of the embarrassing moments of the Bush administration to highlight his obvious dislike of George W. Bush. Stone's inclusion of a scene depicting the famous incident when Bush choked on a pretzel only makes the President seem foolish and silly. The script also features many of the verbal slipups for which Bush's speeches and meetings are famous. Stone's most drastic criticism of Bush arguably comes in the form of Richard Dreyfuss's portrayal of the manipulative and ever-calculating Vice President Dick Cheney, pegged by popular opinion as the "brains of the operation." Stone makes his feelings about Cheney clear in a scene in which Dreyfuss talks Bush into invading Iraq by likening Saddam Hussein to the lettuce in his sandwich.
While almost the entire movie is based on factual events, Stone takes some liberties in imaginging how the decision to invade Iraq played out. Using what are presumably his own assumptions about the conference between Bush and his advisers preceding the 2003 invasion, Stone depicts Cheney discussing the benefits of war in terms of oil reserves and the creation of a world empire. Bush's speech to the House and Senate is juxtaposed with real-life clips of the reactions of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and John McCain. Footage of "shock and awe," Fallujah, and Baghdad bring a note of finality and seriousness that the previous two hours lack.
Stone did an excellent job parading the familiar skeletons in George Bush's closet, and critics of the current administration will get a chuckle out of the spot-on impersonations of Bush and his cabinet.
Those looking for a more in-depth look at the convoluted life of the Commander of the Free World, however, will have to look elsewhere. "W." is playing now at Regal Cinemas on Cook's Corner.