Combustible Celluloid
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With: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Thandie Newton, Richard Dreyfuss, Ioan Gruffudd, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Scott Glenn, Toby Jones, Stacy Keach, Marley Shelton, Jeffrey Wright, Noah Wyle, Dennis Boutsikaris, Bruce McGill
Written by: Stanley Weiser
Directed by: Oliver Stone
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images
Running Time: 131
Date: 05/17/2008

W. (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Son of a Bush

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As with his previous film World Trade Center, Oliver Stone avoids anything paranoid or loony with his new George W. Bush biopic, but the result is still appealing and informative.

Stone opens with Bush (Josh Brolin) and his cabinet trying to decide on what to call the soon-to-be-announced "Axis of Evil." The film then flashes back and forth from Bush's wild adolescence (complete with heavy drinking and drunk driving) to the events leading up to the Iraq war. An amazing cast makes up the White House rogue's gallery: Dick Cheney (a very snaky Richard Dreyfuss), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), General Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton) and Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris).

James Cromwell contributes some amazing things as George H.W. "Poppy" Bush, with Ellen Burstyn as his wife Barbara, more of a loudmouth behind the scenes than in public. Likewise, Elizabeth Banks brings more to Laura Bush than we generally get from her real-life appearances. Ioan Gruffudd appears briefly as Prime Minister Tony Blair, who seems baffled by Bush's Iraq invasion, but agrees to go along with it anyway. And Stacy Keach takes top acting honors as Bush's harelipped minister Earle Hudd.

Stone and his screenwriter Stanley Weiser (Wall Street) wring unexpected humor and lightness from these gatherings, mainly counting upon the audience's knowledge of future events. Additionally, Weiser cleverly inserts many of Bush's public speaking gaffes into his private dialogue. Stone very definitely does not approve of Bush's actions, but at the same time, he comes up with justifications for this behavior.

Mainly W. spends his life trying to win his father's favor, and in these scenes, Stone coaxes a genuine longing and affection; this is not one of those biopics in which the centerpiece performance takes all the glory. Some of the best moments occur in fantasy and/or dream sequences in which Bush faces his darkest fears, and Stone gets across his most secret theories. Overall, Stone guides the picture with energy, warmth and humor, and though he doesn't quite succeed in vindicating the real-life president, he does succeed in making him seem more human.

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