Sometimes I wonder if when asked to identify his occupation, Oliver Stone just writes “pot stirrer.” Stone has virtually made a career of making movies that are going to enrapture some and bug the hell out of others.
Stone’s most recent movie is no exception. “W.” is about the life and times of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser tell Bush’s story, from his misfit younger years to his years in the Oval Office. The story jumps back and forth in time. The Presidential scenes are all set shortly before the invasion of Iraq, and the movie shows what went on behind closed doors as the strategy and maneuvers were discussed.
W. is played by Josh Brolin, who does an excellent job in walking the line between impersonating Bush and acting like Bush. Sadly, the rest of the cast does not do so well. Elizabeth Banks plays Laura Bush and is as good as Brolin. Thandie Newton plays Condolezza Rice. Toby Jones is Karl Rove. Richard Dreyfuss is Dick Cheney. Jeffrey Wright is Colin Powell. James Cromwell is George H.W. Bush. Everyone is good and does a good job with the material, but the script doesn’t give them much to work with. They are characters who have no development. As an audience, we’re just supposed to see Karl Rove and know everything about him. Stone leaves all the hard work up to the audience. Phrases that are now well-known are worked into the script as a way to make the audience smile. Stone continually brings the audience to the joke, making them work to find a laugh. The last time I checked, the director’s job was to do the work for the audience.
That’s not the only problem with the script. There’s also the issue of the order of things. In an attempt to keep the audience guessing and, I suppose, interested, Stone jumps back and forth in time, showing us Bush as a young man, struggling to find what he’s supposed to do with his life. Stone then jumps ahead to the present day, showing us what Bush has wrought.
Maybe it’s because it all seems too familiar. Maybe it’s because the political scene has changed so much in the past couple months that this seems like a distant nightmare. Maybe some of the anger has dissipated. No matter what the reason, Stone has taken one of the most derisive, infuriating, maddening, interesting political characters and made him boring. -Sam