Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fact, Fiction, or Simply Partisan?

Oliver Stone flick blurrs lines between history and partisanship

Oliver Stone has a history of producing historical films. Between the big screen and the small screen, Stone's films include Nixon (1995), JFK (1991), The Last Days of Kennedy and King (1998) and The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001).

In W, Stone turns his attention to George W Bush before his Presidency has actually concluded and before his successor has actually been elected.

Josh Brolin portrays George W Bush as a man utterly lost in life -- torn between his carefree tendencies and the stern expectations of his father George HW Bush (James Cromwell) -- until an anxiety attack leads him to seek solace as a born again Christian.

Brolin deftly disappears into the role. At times Brolin's delivery of some of Bush's more famous speeches could nearly be mistaken for the man himself.

But for the other roles, one frankly wonders if Stone cast the worst actor possible. In particular, the role of General (ret) Colin Powell; Jeffrey Wright bumbles his way through a rather curmudeonish performance as Bush's oft-ignored Secretary of State.

While some of the casting choices -- Rob Corrdry as Ari Fleischer -- were a good deal more inspired, the often-cartoonish performances delivered often defy credulity. It almost seems as if Stone is intending to produce bad cinema, yet producing a watchable film despite his best (or, depending on how you look at it, worst) efforts.

The movie often blurs the line between known truth (Bush's cabinet/prayer meetings) transplanted truth (some of Bush's famous publicly butchered language displaced into private settings) and outright fiction (in particular, the scenes in which Bush and company plan the invasion of Iraq).

Yet even throughout the scenes depicting the planning of Iraq and Bush's struggles with the immediate aftermath, Bush's attitude seems to be not one of malfeasance, but one of assurance -- he seems to literally believe he is doing not only the right thing, but precisely the very thing his father should have done before him.

The contrast between HW Bush and W Bush's approach to Iraq couldn't be clearer. Bush Sr is shown congratulating his defense staff -- including Powell -- for concluding the war so quickly. W Bush instead celebrates what he believes to be a definitive triumph without having considered the consequences of the coming occupation, while Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) gloats to Powell.

Brolin's depiction of George W Bush concludes as it began -- with a man hopelessly overwhelmed by the circumstances he finds himself in.

The generally-accepted expectation is that Stone's flick was intended to ridicule Bush, if not outright villify him. As such, there's no question that the release of the film toward the conclusion of a Presidential election is clearly intended to influence the outcome of this election.

With more and more people falling all over themselves to identify John McCain with George W Bush as closely as possible, there's little question over whether or not the film is actually trying to influence the election.

As such, W is unquestionably a highly political film. While still a biographical film, it will, by necessity, have to be rejected as a historical film.

The film is still tremendously entertaining, and some speculation holds that it may serve to make Bush seem more likable by focusing on the struggles and foibles of his life rather than attempting to outright villainize him.

One way or the other, W will remain the subject of a great deal of controversy for a long, long time.

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