After watching the movie 'W' - which was billed as a chronicle of the life of George W. Bush - my first thought was, "I sure hope this movie was accurate, because it certainly wasn't entertaining." I even said it out loud. Ask John.
'W' was a 2 hour long retrospective, barely grazing the surface of Bush's life. The audience gets the idea that GWB feels suffocated beneath the shadows of his father and brother, but it never compels us toward empathy. Similarly, we are supposed to gather that Bush rebels into a life of sex and drugs, even though the subjects are only casually mentioned.
The flashback method is intertwined with camouflaged dream sequences as well as broken time lines, which keeps the movie-goer from ever actually getting lost in the story itself. The plot seemed to be missing, opting instead for a central focus on the botched war and all of the ways manipulation was intentionally used to fuel the cause. Even the war theme was scattered, making it difficult to piece together who was responsible for which segments of which war.
The acting itself was quite respectable, most notably James Cromwell, playing the part of George Herbert Walker Bush. Ellen Burnstyn and Josh Brolin gave acceptable performances, too. Unfortunately, at the most gripping moments, the music and cinematography caused the movie to feel like a cut-rate musical. At one moment in particular, Gen. Colin Powell gives a speech about the merits of the Iraq war...at least, I think that's what it was about. I was so convinced that the cast was about to break out into song that I couldn't focus on the dialog. Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condoleezza Rice was as exaggerated as a boardwalk characature, and it reeked a little of Dustin Hoffman's 'Rain Man'.
If we are to assume that this movie is based off of actual events, then the audience is treated to a back-stage pass leading up to the election of our 43rd president. If the time line is shuffled into order, we get to ride along with GWB from his frat days in Yale, through many unsuccessful careers and his first failed attempt at politics. If nothing else, this movie shows us that Bush is a man who is desperate to be seen as powerful and capable, even though he never feels like he lives up to the Bush name.
There was one single conclusion presented in this movie that stands out in my mind. A connection is drawn between the fact that Bush Sr. ended his Iraq war quickly & successfully, to the fact that he lost his run for a second term. GWB lashes out at this point, hollering that his dad should have killed Saddam the first time. GWB then vows that *he* will never feel that kind of embarrassment, insinuating that the second Iraq war is just an attempt to finish what his dad started.
Whether wrong or right, 'W' leaves the viewer with an interesting perspective. Personally, I now see the President as a religious-nut, taking actions in the name of God, claiming it is his calling. I see an egocentric child, refusing to let go of something that he may not even truly believe, purely because he had already presented it as his position. It appears that GWB is easily manipulated (once figured out) and Dick Cheney is his puppetmaster.
Bush supporters may have an entirely different perspective on this chronicle, but I think Oliver Stone intended to allow for ambiguity. The whole movie is sort of one big cinematic fortune cookie.
*Thanks to Grant_P for his wonderful Characature off of flickr