The first question that has to be asked
is “Why now?” Why release a biopic about a sitting President, right at the
end of his 2nd term, and just a couple of weeks before the election
for his successor? The answer is obvious: this
movie isn’t just about the perceived buffoonery of our 43rd
President. It’s also about the whole dangerous
collection of manipulators, cynics, lightweights, sycophants, and dim
functionaries around him: a collection which, by
implication, would still be sniffing the hallways of power were the impending
election to proceed in a particular way. Ah, now we get it.
This is Oliver Stone’s
under the guise of a documentary-looking caricature study.
Josh Brolin plays George
W. Bush, seemingly straightforward, but with a hint of parody,
particularly when doing the good-ol’-boy bits with his cowboy boots up on
the desk. The current physical similarity is striking, but
the retrospectives suffer, with Brolin himself more approximating the current
age of the President, and looking ‘way long in the tooth when attempting to
portray W as a frat boy, or a hard-drinking, poker-playing, dissolute young
we get full measure of the way “Junior,” or the younger George
Bush, partied his early years away, at Yale and then Harvard and then
in a succession of short-lived occupations, while his famous Daddy bailed him
out, fixed things, kept giving him more chances, lectured him about the
responsibility of the family name, and kept pointing out how Jeb, his younger
brother, was really making something of himself. According
to this version of W’s life story, he was not only overwhelmed by the long
shadow cast by his famous patrician father, he was also continually resentful
of the apparent favoritism which his father showed to the more serious-minded
Jeb. W’s first attempt at running for Congress
ended in defeat, as he was outmaneuvered by a Texas politician who kept
bringing up W’s East Coast education, and silver spoon upbringing.
W vowed to never be “out-Texaned” ag ain. And we
all think to ourselves, “Got that right.”
W meets Laura (Elizabeth Banks, who looks the right age at that
encounter but doesn’t seem to age) at the backyard barbecue party of a
mutual friend. She’s quiet and classy and drawn to the
charm of this boisterous, hail-fellow-well-met budding politician, even though
she doesn’t readily agree with his politics. (She’s
shown here lecturing him about education on the night they met.) Not
surprisingly, she’s portrayed as a steady, intelligent influence for him,
but always in the background, never in his inner circle when the real hard
decisions are made. Oliver Stone chose not to include a
single scene of W as a Daddy. The two daughters are
mentioned, but only in passing, along with a fleeting glance of an old
photograph sitting on his office desk. That’s it.
One wonders how much their memory and perspective of him might have
rounded out the personal picture.
As it is, we have a brash, swaggering, talking-with-his-mouth-full
middle-age man who would help his father with his failed Presidential
campaign, and run a baseball team, continually returning to a fantasy of his
playing center field in an empty baseball park, then precipitously deciding to
run for Governor of Texas,
apparently against the advice of his sharp-tongued Mom, Barbara (played with a
vivid liveliness by Ellen
Burstyn) and his now-cautionary and wounded Dad (played with a constant
air of disdain by James Cromwell).
There’s hardly any treatment of that Governor’s election, or, for
that matter, either Presidential election, other than the unexplained
declaration of divine calling: “God told me to do it.”
This movie is really about all about the somber, private meetings
leading up to the decision to invade Iraq
, and the conduct of the War afterwards, including the approval of the
torturous interrogation of suspected terrorists. And now we
get to the real point of Director Stone: to remind everyone
that the lasting legacy of this President will be how he decided to invade a
sovereign country because they might (but didn’t) possess the dreaded “wmd,”
weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, his advisors led him astray, with the notable exception of Colin
Powell (Jeffrey Wright),
who just got shouted down with the smarmy hectoring and lecturing from the
likes of Dick Cheney (a
sinister, self-assured Richard
Dreyfuss), and the alarming, resounding “Amens ” of weak “yes
men” like Condaleeza Rice (Thandie
Newton as deferential decoration).
Yes, before our sitting President
is even out of office, the argument has begun about his legacy. Director
Stone is obviously firing the first salvo. The rest, as
they say, is history.
Questions For Discussion:
What do you think will be the legacy of George W. Bush?
How do you perceive the conduct of his Presidency?
Do you believe that an even-handed biography can only be
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace
Presbyterian Church, Greenville