by Marko Domazet
How does one even begin to put together a film about a man as talked about as George W Bush? And what should be the main focus? The war? W’s ability to get his way despite an obvious lack of common sense? The pretzel incident?
Press conferences, cabinet meetings and hangovers moments overlap each other as Oliver Stone maps out the development of Bush in his latest flick W. The ambitious subject matter as well as the names associated with it certainly drummed up a lot of attention, but does is all stick? Well, Loose Lips were fortunate enough to attend the press conference and hear what those involved in the project had to say about it.
First up, Olive Stone is surprisingly foxy (and energetic as he allegedly spent his weekend in London trying to snag Kate Moss!) Secondly, he comes across as very charming. Finally, and most importantly, he had an interesting take on the film and provided answers that added another dimension to a seemingly straightforward flick.
According to Stone, he always wanted W to be more of a character study outlining a man’s struggle whilst trying to find himself, as opposed to a film whose main purpose is to run through a series of factual events. Stone sees W’s life as a three act play, where the first act looks into the recklessness and the rebellion of a man (i.e. Bush running around college and doing all sorts of trouble). The second act takes us through the moderation of a man (i.e. W finds love, God and somebody to love) and finally, the third act looks at Bush’s rising; him becoming a man with a newfound confidence; a man of war.
When looking for his W, Stone thought James Brolin to be the ultimate choice. Brolin’s Western aura juxtaposed with his cowboy upbringing and the fact that he’s his own man (or should that be trouble maker?) were all qualities Stone considered essential components of W’s character. Brolin himself was admittedly confused about being put forward and thought that the most terrifying aspect of the whole thing was having to play a man from his 20’s through to his 40’s. Despite any initial reservation, it would appear that Brolin overcame his fears as he does a very good job indeed. He manages to build a well rounded character and strays away from obviously cheap comedic tricks one normally associates with Bush. Instead, he portrays a lost man who’s trying to land on his feet; a man totally unaware of the fact that he’s struggling against himself; a man out of touch with everything apart from a desire to have his way.
The role of the First Lady is played by Elizabeth Banks; a relative newcomer brought to Stone’s attention after her comedic stint in The 40 Year Old Virgin. I personally felt that Banks held her own very well and managed to build a believable Laura Bush. She looked beyond the smiling (but inaccessible) persona we see on the TV screens and portrayed the First Lady as warm and loving woman who chooses to stand behind her man.
So, the stellar leads aside, how do we feel about this film? Well, although enjoyable at times, I have to admit that I didn’t understand whether I was watching a drama, a biopic or an episode of Saturday Night Live (yes, Thandie I’m referring to your shakey acting as Condie). Admittedly, when it comes to W there is an element of comedy that can’t be overlooked. As Josh Brolin puts it, you do want it to be there, but you can’t build two hours around it. You have to find the human aspect of it; the human aspect of everything. Yes, I for one couldn’t agree more, but I’m still puzzled as to whether the film actually had an element of humanity/reality/believability running through it?
Sure, the leads and some of the supporting cast (most notably Toby Jones, Michael Gaston and Ellen Burstyn in the cutest little wig) did inject a dose of humanity into the proceedings but also interacted with W in a way that helped the audience understand some of his charisma and appeal. Unfortunately (and this was a big one), large chunks of the film feel like an SNL skit (again Thandie girl, lees shaking, more baking). Perhaps the timing of the release is unfortunate as Tina Fey and SNL have stolen most of the current political thunder? Perhaps it’s to do with the casting and Stone choosing actors with a physical resemblance? Perhaps it’s just me not getting it?
There’s no getting away from the fact that W is an incredibly interesting film and Stone serves up a surprisingly sensitive portrayal of a man the whole world seems to know, but too many questions were left unanswered for it to be an amazing one. However, in the words of the director himself, W does does make you think about who Bush is, what he’s doing to the world and where we are heading. It questions the situation we’ve put ourselves in and can one really put more pressure on a film maker?
I say see it, enjoy it, but don’t expect it to be a comprehensive study of W’s life.