October 20, 2008

Oh my name it is nothin'

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest

I's taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And the land that I live in

Has God on its side.

With God On Our Side by Bob Dylan

As the end credits roll marking the finale of W and the completion of director Oliver Stone’s troika of Presidential bio-pics (JFK, Nixon, W), the voice of another generation lashes out of the screen. Almost a half-century-old now, With God On Our Side recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963, served as a litany of American hubris and military actions which are philosophically defended by claiming to have God on the side of America.

The Iraq War can now be added to that list.

W is a far, far better picture than I expected. It is not as some critics have suggested, a black comedy. It is not a farce. While there are some loopy dream sequences and flights of fancy, it is a powerful, straightforward biography depicting the guilt-ridden son of a hugely successful man.

James Cromwell masterfully plays that hugely successful man – George Herbert Walker Bush and Josh Brolin astonishingly portrays that guilt-ridden son - George W. Bush. Both performances are spot on in their capturing the personas of their targets. Similarly shocking is the performance by Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell who serves as the only rational voice in the Alice-in-Wonderland cabinet meetings Stone portrays. The casting is absolutely brilliant as is the make-up. Thandi Newton is scary as Condoleezza Rice. But audiences will be stunned by the performance of Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. Her look and sound is captured so well you feel this is actually the wife of the 43rd President. In addition, seamless Zelig-like post-production work allows the main actors to slide into famous recorded news events such as State of the Union speeches and the like.

Dr. Evil, Vice President Dick Cheney is underplayed marvelously by the great Richard Dreyfuss.

The real credit has to go to Josh Brolin who becomes George W. Bush. At first you don’t buy it, but after a few minutes of Bush’s college years you are hooked. In fact, when I came home and put on the news, there was the actual Bush and I thought of Brolin. That’s powerful. Oliver Stone has done this before with great actors. For instance, try looking at the real Jim Morrison after viewing the great Val Kilmer in Stone’s classic The Doors.

Tip: Most fans of The Daily Show might not even recognize Rob Corddry as Presidential press secretary Ari Fleisher. Oh, and by the way, Toby Jones (the “second” Truman Capote) is great as the weasel Karl Rove.

As in The Doors, JFK and Nixon, alcohol is always an uncredited character. W is awash in booze. Booze being poured through funnels into the mouths of college students. Booze in bars. Booze at bar-b-ques. Booze in almost every early scene. In fact, it is so omnipresent that when it is removed – in this case by Bush’s supposed “white light experience” - Stone makes sure we always see the label on all those bottles of O’Douls the abstinent Bush swigs down. And this is just not for product placement (Rumors of Bush’s drinking have swarmed the zeitgeist ever since the start of his second term).

W was written by Stanley Weiser, who also wrote Wall Street for Oliver Stone back in 1987.

You may think you know everything there is to know about President George W. Bush. I guarantee you, you don’t. Oliver Stone’s W, will fill in a few of those blank spots that have left you scratching your freakin’ head for eight long years.

You will sleep better for it and for the knowledge that Bush’s days in the White House are literally numbered.

For that alone, the cinematic ride is worth it.

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