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Movie Review: W.

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What’s the world coming to? I just watched an Oliver Stone movie about President George W. Bush and my first thought while leaving the theater was, “I feel sorry for Bush.” Has the guy who made JFK gone soft? I anticipated anger and heated debates. Instead, W. will likely disappear with barely a peep.

Usually, one must wait a while before having his life immortalized on celluloid. Some perspective is required. Even cucumbers need time before they’re ready for a hamburger. When Stone crafted his previous examination of a U.S. president, he’d had more than two decades to let Nixon’s story cure in his mind, resulting in something almost Shakespearean in magnitude.

This time, drawing from the life of a still-serving president, he achieves a relative piffle. Maybe it’s too early in the pickling process for this tale. Or maybe age has mellowed the old Stoner, along with the sobering affects of a string of failures – Any Given Sunday, Alexander, and the oddly conservative World Trade Center.

In his reticence to remove his boxing gloves, Stone has perhaps accomplished something truer though, a portrait of a man that we can all identify with. How many have struggled to find a direction for their lives? How many have given in to their parents’ desires and become a lawyer when they really wanted to be a rock star? Stone’s G.W. Bush is such a man.

As played by Josh Brolin, Bush is a lovable guy. I didn’t question for moment that Laura would fall for him. I fell for him myself, recognizing in him my own inner slacker. Searching for something, Bush tells Bush Sr., “I love baseball, dad.” His father shoots him down saying he hasn’t any talent; he simply can’t play. Let this movie be a warning. Encourage your kids.

Baseball is used repeatedly as a metaphor in W. The image of G.W. playing centerfield as if lifted from a John Fogerty song – “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today…” – recurs throughout. In these images though, Bush has no fans – the stadium is empty. The point here seems that Bush was similarly not ready to play, today – or any other day – in the White House.

If I may put my own spit and spin on the baseball analogy, the Bush administration plays in W. like a ball game. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney (a memorable Toby Jones and Richard Dreyfuss) take turns swinging the bat. Gen. Colin Powell (a wonderful Jeffrey Wright) attempts to keep the game on track as umpire. Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton in fine SNL form) cheers from the stands. And who is G.W. in all of this? Why, the ball of course.

And thus we have the source of my feeling sorry for the guy. He’s a nice guy, like you and me, who never should have been placed into this game – or volunteered for it. And for that mistake, he gets beat up, humiliated. He asks Cheney to stop up-staging him. “I’m the decider,” he pleads. Cheney just shrugs him off. We grow so close to Brolin’s G.W. that we almost forget this game’s exceptionally high stakes.

Stone seems to consider W. the final word. He pointedly followed the initial in the title with a period. And he ended W. with “The End.” on a black screen. How often do films end with “The End.” nowadays? While W. pretty much sums up my thoughts on this presidency, I hope these pickles can be tasted again in 20 years, with a bite that’s a bit bolder, more daring.

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