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USA 2008
Directed by
Oliver Stone
129 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: George “Dubya” Bush (Josh Brolin) headed up the USA from 2001 to 2009. The privileged son of George Bush Snr (James Cromwell), himself also a former president, Dubya will perhaps best be remembered for his blunders and the devastating effects of creating a war in Iraq. But how much do most of us know about the man behind the mask?

No political animal, I’m always nervous about how I’ll take to a film dealing with political subject matter. The strength of Oliver Stone’s latest foray into the arena (Nixon in 1995 and to some extent 1991’s JFK have been his previous trips to the Oval Office) swept my fears away, and I found myself fascinated by this well-executed, superbly-acted story. W is in many ways the classic father-son rivalry tale and it left me with a slightly softened attitude to the hapless ex-President.

In typical biopic style the movie opens with a shot of Dubya dreaming of the day he’ll be inaugurated. We then go back in time to his war cabinet room, where the “big boys” are discussing a suitable title for the powers they eventually dub “the axis of evil”. Then the serious flashbacks begin, taking us to 1966, when Dubya was a mere lad of 20, a student at Yale, and seriously involved in booze and gals with his drunken mates. Too often his stern Dad has to bail him out of drink-driving charges. Bush Snr constantly berates Dubya, holding up his brother, Jeb, as the model son. Dubya works on oil rigs, leaves countless jobs, gambles and in the late 70s meets Laura (Elizabeth Banks), who he will later wed. The film goes on to examine how Dubya got involved in AA meetings, found his faith, helped his father’s Presidential campaign in the late 80s and finally made his own decision to enter politics. The fateful days of creating the debacle of Iraq are also examined.

The big thing that came out of this portrait for me was my perception of this unfortunate man. I’m left with a sense he was in many ways an overgrown little boy, struggling to get out of Daddy’s shadow, desperate for Daddy’s respect and recognition, and determined to rival Daddy in leaving a legacy. But he was also a little boy totally out of his depth, playing in game of which he had little grasp and surrounded by a coven of ambitious, war-mongering advisers, such as Secretary of State, Dick Cheney, who spouts breathtaking lines as “Control Iran and we’ll control the world – no-one will fuck with us again”.

Dubya’s inner sanctum is compellingly portrayed by a clutch of skilled actors including Thandie Newton as Condaleeza Rice, Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Stacey Keach as Earl Hudd, Bruce McGill as George Tenet and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. Equally powerful is the ever-impressive James Cromwell as George Bush Snr.

Brolin’s performance impresses and further serves to highlight the skills of this man, recently Oscar-nominated for his performance in Milk and memorable in No Country For Old Men. Though he bears only scant resemblance to Dubya, he captures the mannerisms, speech style and general demeanour of the man, particularly in his Presidential days, and at times we’re deceived into thinking he is the real deal.

Whilst undoubtedly George W Bush presidential term of was way more complex and involved than any two-hour movie can show, I like Stone’s rather reductive focus, which gives us an insight into a much-reviled man, who was, after all, a human being. Although W’s malapropisms and his bunglings as a Commander-in-Chief will be his best-remembered legacy, Brolin’s performance will be another significant marker in this fine actor’s career.




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