Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"You mean like pulling out their toenails?" W. Film Review

W.-Oliver Stone-2008


Oliver Stone's latest film W. seems to do little in the way of importance. In general Stone's films have been filled with different views on politics, war, race, and so on. But lately it seems that Stone has gone kind of soft. His latest efforts have been extremely unimportant films who don't even seem to know what they want to be. Don't get me wrong, he is tackling important subjects (World Trade Center especially) but he seems to be doing so in such a way that even he doesn't know exactly what he is doing. Is it always important for a controversial filmmaker to remain controversial? No, not necessarily, but I am reminded of what the great Ingmar Bergman once said, "If I have nothing to say and I just want to make a film, I don’t make the film. The craftsmanship of filmmaking is so terribly stimulating, dangerous and obsessing that you can be very tempted. But if you have nothing to come with … try to be honest with yourself and don’t make the picture"

Oliver Stone seems to think he has a lot to say, and at first glance he does, maybe too much. W is an exercise in saying a whole lot without saying anything at all.

We follows W. as he works his way from frat boy to President of The United States. We see basically anything we have read, or heard about Bush, put to screen and reenacted in some fashion. Bush choking on the pretzel, Bush and Laura meeting, Bush buying the Texas Rangers, helping campaign for Poppy(H.W.) in '92 and the main focus is the lead up to and decision of the War in Iraq.

Before W. was released into theatres I saw an interview with Oliver Stone On Real Time With Bill Maher. While Maher praised the film, the only things he really said was the fact that the film is basically Bush's greatest hits, and mentions the pretzel scene. I have to admit, from hearing that, I got a little excited. I cannot explain the reasoning behind it but I concocted this whole film in my head surrounding this absurd moment in W's life where he almost died choking on a pretzel. I thought of Stone making this a metaphor for the entire life, and presidency of W. In a sense, I guess he sort of did that, but it just seemed haphazardly thrown in there. In this same interview Stone explained how George W is such a brilliant and interesting dramatic figure. He explained how in the making of Nixon he understood the extreme guilt that Nixon felt and wanted to exhibit that throughout the film. In turn he exclaimed how Bush is so astounding because he feels utterly guiltless for the things he has done. He is a completely earnest human being.

This sentiment did come across in W, but not in the way I expected. This thought doesn't shine through with subtle moments of bliss, but rather Stone gives this film a total sense of boredom. I could not help wondering at times, why am I watching this? I understand these are important to get the whole spectrum of W, but they are brought together in such a amateur way that you realize this is a dramatization, I don't feel empathy for these characters at all. And while I can applaud Stone for keeping a distance and not forcing his beliefs down our throats and proclaiming that George W. Bush isn't the best President this country has had(No kidding) I cannot root for this film, simply due to it's lack of a heart.
Where the film finds its footing is in a few wonderful instances. The relationship is wonderful between Poppy and W, and a real basis for a lot of what W seems to do in his life. I was wanting to explore this theory more in depth, and while it is the closest we get to a complete subplot, it doesn't all hold together. A few random occurrences of Bushie in the Rangers stadium hoping to catch an imaginary fly ball from center field give us visuals that are subtle enough for us to have to think, but out there enough to allow the audience to understand their place in the film.

The most wonderful thing about W is the outstanding performances. From Richard Dreyfuss(playing the ultravillain Dick Cheney) to Jeffrey Wright(Colin Powell) to Elizabeth Banks(who doesn't get much but shines in everything she does do) we are overloaded with great acting that doesn't come across as caricature or impersonation but as actual characters that just happen to be real people. Of course the highest praise goes to Brolin, who takes it to the edge of being an over the top impersonation but holds back just enough to make it absolutely perfect.

Overall W. has it's moments but they are few and far between. Bill Maher really had it right when he said it was like Bush's greatest hits. W. is exactly that an album filled with wonderful songs but as a whole they could never work out to be amazing.


Sarah said...

I was also a bit disappointed by "W." -- finding it a bland, disjointed portrait of one of our era's most fascinatingly dysfunctional political leaders.

Sure, I credit Oliver Stone for putting his politics behind him and creating a (somewhat) sympathetic portrait of a much-reviled figure, but where are the fireworks? There's no 9-11, no "W on the presidential campaign trail", not even a thorough examination of the early days of the Iraq War.

I thought Josh Brolin was phenomenol and enjoyed the solid performances by Richard Dreyfuss, Toby Jones and Jeffrey Wright, but found Thandie Newton an astoundingly poor choice to play Condoleeza Rice. And I frankly refuse to believe that everyone -- even Laura Bush -- calls our commander-in-chief "Dubya."

All in all, "Nixon" did it better.

the editor., said...

Hi! Deadpan,
I must admit I am still trying to figure out what category to place this film into ...Is it "satire?!?" or " an earnest melodrama?!?"

I have been told by other film goers who(m) have watched the film that is a melodrama with swift satire. (and I read somewhere that director Oliver Stone wanted this film to be viewed in the same vein as his 2 previous dramatic biopics of 2 former Presidents...JFK and Nixon.)

If so, I wonder why some film goers are emerging from the theatre "laughing" ...Go figure?!?

dcd ;)

Dead Pan said...

Sarah---I'm glad we're in agreement on the overall impact of Stone's latest. But I didn't need to see 9-11, or W's campaign trail or anything for that matter. I just needed something to sink my teeth into.

Editor---I would definitely agree that it is a melodrama with satire thrown in, which should have been amazing, but lacked any real punch. As for those leaving the theatre laughing, well, it's hard not to laugh at this president to be honest.

darkcitydame4e said...

Hi! Deadpan,
I have "officially" "elected"...Oops! I mean "tagged" you to participate
in the "Alphabet Meme"...Now, I am about to
away before you can get your hands on me!...ha!

dcd ;-)

Dead Pan said...

I will definitely be putting up my alphabet meme soon...when I get a chance...thanks for the tag.heh.