I assumed that Oliver Stone would engage in much speculation about George W. Bush in W. his portrait of the President. I was indeed looking forward to them as no one else really goes where Stone goes when he decides to chance his arm with a portrait of the well-known. Since the middle of 1999 when it became clear that Bush would be the Republican candidate, throughout the rest of that year as Al Gore crashed and burned, then as Republican judicial appointees contrived to award him the verdict notwithstanding the popular vote nor the obvious intent of the citizens of Florida, I’ve cordially despised the 43rd President of the United States and nothing he did in his Presidency eviced an iota of sympathy for him. This even manifested itself in my participating in marches for the first time in decades when he took the US and its acolyte John Howard’s Australia off to a foolhardy and vainglorious war. I settled in to Stone’s speculations and representations very comfortably.
Do we otherwise know that Colin Powell snaped back at Dick Cheney along the lines “Don’t talk to me like that Mr Five Deferments”. If it never happened then we have to be grateful to Stone for creating the legend. There are similarly brilliant moments scattered throughout. When Richard Dreyfuss’s marvellously reedy rendition of Dick Cheney launches into a tirade of choked up vengeance, a presentation that reeks of homage to Dr Strangelove, in which he proposes how America will use the Iraq war to solve its long term energy supply problems, you get a mesmerising glimpse of pure evil. It may be satirical but you believe every second of it, especially the contempt and the malice that lurk therein. When George W. goes to bed and dreams of his father provoking him into an Oval Office fist fight you get an an Oliver Stone piledriver image of the weak bastard who spent his life pissed off that his father doesn’t like or admire him.
(It’s mildly amusing that Stone adopts an almost hagiographical stance about Bush Sr, a nondescript President that no one recalls with any warmth and one who was belted by Bill Clinton in the only real contest he ever fought. )
There are other incidental pleasures as well and no doubt more than a few conform with other long held prejudices. Thandie Newton plays Condoleeza Rice as the befuddled intellectually inadequate loyalist she undoubtedly is. Toby Jones, last seen playing the odious Swifty Lazar in Frost/Nixon plays Karl Rove as the smartest kid on the block, the only one of the male entourage to actually like Bush the man and the one who can see the political potential for someone with an extraordinary y and probably unique mix of laziness, street smarts, smooth talk, ambition, hatred, envy, fear of failure and a knowledge that any inadequacy can be overcome by hard work when it matters. Stone evinces sympathy when he focuses on Bush’s legendary fitness campaign, his three miles a day, probably the only thing that stood between him and complete disintegration in the face of disaster all round. Without it he may well have lapsed back to drinking or worse just as Nixon did in his dark days.
Josh Brolin’s performance seems note perfect. If you want to see Bush portrayed as the man out of his depth, here’s the opportunity. Maybe the Academy was too frightened to even contemplate nominating Brolin for his work. When you consider that the contest for best actor came down to a couple of actors working on our nostalgia quotient in different ways you can see why. Maybe, in the way of these things he’ll get something for something less worthy at some other, safer time.
So, what’s the best film of the moment with all these Oscar nominees and Berlin launches floating round the multiplexes. I surprise even myself by saying that its Oliver Stone’s W.