Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dubya was never worth my time


Whether you love him or hate him, there is no question that George W. Bush is one of the most controversial public figures in recent memory. In an unprecedented undertaking, acclaimed director Oliver Stone is bringing the life of our 43rd President to the big screen as only he can. W takes viewers through Bush’s eventful life -- his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.


In the first scene of Oliver Stone's meandering examination of the fall and rise, and fall, and fall, of our 43rd president, there is a line intended (accurately, I think) to sum up our American power structure over much of the last century or two. The scene is a fraternity hazing session at Yale. Naked pledges, the scion of the Bush family among them, are in a basement seated shivering on ice while liquor is forced down their throats. One of the upperclassmen smirks: "Honor, decency, and God-given character – that, along with our family fortunes, is why we rule the world." There is very little arguing with the second part of that sentiment. And it is difficult to imaging a man with George W. Bush's résumé rising from the ashes of his prodigal indiscretions to the political heights he has reached without family connections driving the bus. Back then, though, young George tells his fraternity brothers he has no ambition to follow in the family political footsteps. He's one of those boys who just wanna have fun. The young Dubya, not to put too fine a point on it, was a drunk and a wastrel. By many accounts, Stone has soft-pedaled some of the worst of it. There's plenty of excessive drinking on display here, but little or no drug use, a pursuit those who knew the future president in his salad days remember vividly. Business failures and his dodgy stint with the Texas Air National Guard are painted with a light brush, though there is a wry mention of his trading of Sammy Sosa when he was an owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Stone jumps from ledge to ledge without always showing us enough of the important landscape in between. The young Dubya we see here has a good deal of natural charm, and Josh Brolin shines his full light on that quality. You can see why good-time girls and poker players and drinking buddies gravitated to him. You also understand how his family connections made him an attractive guy for Texas businessmen to pal around with. We've seen too many documentaries, read too many exposés of this administration and its misdeeds, to be satisfied with this. Even so, a lot of what it does show us is fascinating. W's courtiers are portrayed in a one-dimensional way. Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney is the scheming neo-con, trying to manipulate W and always making digs at Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell, who is the voice of reason and restraint. Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice is brisk but prissy. Subtlety and humour aren't Stone's strong points. Some of the jokes (the use of Robin Hood music on the soundtrack) are heavy-handed. The tone of the storytelling shifts in disconcerting fashion. Some sequences are satirical in intent. Others seem to belong in a family melodrama. The romance between W and Laura (Elizabeth Banks) is handled in surprisingly delicate fashion. Oliver Stone has a terrible sense of timing. This is a film that has been overtaken by events and already seems out of date. The debate about George W Bush's presidency is already long since surely over. With capitalism in near-collapse, the exit strategy from Iraq still not negotiated, his approval rates plummeting and even former followers turning against him, there are few who would argue that his term in office has been anything other than disastrous.If Stone had made this film four years ago, it would have had far more relevance and urgency than it does now. The director has said that his aim in making the movie was to ask "who the man is". His problem is that few audiences are likely to care any more. They just want to move on and so do I. A 2 on my "Go See" scale.

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