Friday, October 17, 2008


After W. abruptly ended and Jeannine and I walked out of the theater, I turned to her and said, "Well, that was deeply disappointing and way too long... kind of like the Bush presidency itself." That pretty much sums up my thoughts on Oliver Stone's Nixon-like treatment of Bush 43, but keep reading if you want the full spoiler-filled review.

If you believe that the inadequacies of George W. Bush can be defined entirely as an epic case of "daddy issues", then this the film for you. If you have other explanations for the incredibly dramatic failures that have marked the Bush Administration (i.e. Bush is a blind, pampered, wannabe-cowboy bully backed by powerful but incompetent business and religious conservatives who have successfully used the fear-induced prejudices of Walmart America to preserve and expand their power until now), then this will be one long bore. The theme of the film is established within the trailer - Dubya is a mildly-retarded redneck who only craves the approval of his distant father - but the film goes on for over two hours, most of which is filled with Josh Brolin's Bush drinking and carousing, interrupted with James Crowell's inaccurately-virile Bush 41 looking on disapprovingly. As Jeannine pointed out to me afterwards, there isn't a single scene devoted to 9/11, nor on on either of Bush's presidential campaigns, Hurricane Katrina, the economic collapse (the first one he inherited in 2001, I can't expect that the film could be that up-to-date), the Republican Congressional loss in 2006, Terry Schiavo, or Bush's questionable stint in the Air National Guard. We do get a long scene about some Texas bimbo Bush may have knocked up after college, at least a couple of drunk driving scenes, dream sequences of him in the Texas Rangers stadium that never pan out effectively, and lots of scenes of him watching ESPN (even when he's not choking to death on a pretzel).

Most of the performances are far too good for the film. Brolin is spot-on, Thandie Newton is even better as Condi Rice, and the dude from Capote does a good job as Karl Rove; but, George Dreyfus can't really pull off Dick Cheney (why not just get Danny DeVito to reprise his Penguin role from Batman Returns?), Jeffrey Wright is forced to play Colin Powell as an uninterestingly earnest voice-of-reason (rather than as the speed-bump of a pussy he was in reality), and Scott Glenn is badly-miscast as Rumsfeld. Ultimately, what really sinks the film is that Stone has nothing interesting to say about Bush, and this is a damn shame. Dubya is the most interesting President in history since FDR, have been in office during (and often directly responsible for) the worst crisises I've known in my lifetime, yet all Stone can muster is that his daddy never gave him enough attention. This inadequacy is brought home by the final scene, another dream sequence where Dubya is in the stadium trying to catch a baseball that never comes, alone in an interminable emptiness. While that might be a powerful statement in the personal drama of Bush's life, it would've been a much more powerful statement to instead have Bush surrounded by the dead soldiers, bombed civilians, and drowned citizens, all the lives he has wrecked in the historical drama that has been the Bush Presidency. I expected politics and instead got psychodrama, and quite frankly, I don't think there's enough to Bush's psychosis to make a good film, especially one this long. He's just an asshole, and what's really interesting (and funny) is why this asshole was able to get away with what he did for so long.

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