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 political statement, 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 adult.   Yes, 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:
1)      What do you think will be the legacy of George W. Bush?
2)      How do you perceive the conduct of his Presidency?
3)      Do you believe that an even-handed biography can only be offered posthumously?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas