Barack Obama is going to the White House, and the outgoing President George W Bush is a mere afterthought in media coverage, his reign effectively finished by the historic election.
But that hasn't stopped Oliver Stone already putting out a film about the 43rd commander-in-chief; unlike his biographical takes on Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon, where decades passed before their production.
“W” was timed for political impact, rushed into editing and released just before the election in America; to somehow prick the conscience of Americans who voted for the former governor of Texas in 2000 and 2004. This was a peculiar choice perhaps: could Americans be any more aware of their feelings about Bush with so much material out there, said, done, dusted and rehearsed ad infinitum?
What Stone has actually made is a kind of fable, a light drama with deadly ramifications. Bush as played by Josh Brolin (the handsome actor who shone recently in No Country For Old Men) is portrayed as an affable chancer; a man whose political smarts emerge after a string of failed business ventures. In this version of events, the key driving force behind W is his relationship with president 41, his father George Herbert Walker Bush. James Cromwell delivers him as a constantly disapproving figure, chiding “Junior” for crashing his car, creating yet another mess for the former head of CIA to clean up, and reminding his errant son that he is letting down the family legacy.
Daddy’s disapproval is shown as the key driving motivation for W as booze-fuelled recriminations give way to his entry into Harvard Business School (with the suggestion that Daddy fixed that too?). It is a humanising portrayal. We are asked to understand how W, the man —vulnerable and a mediocre achiever— became a Chief Executive who could control a room containing the likes of Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton). As a performance, you have to praise Brolin’s work, the voice seems eerily accurate and he has created a character whose flaws and temperament are engaging to watch. Oliver Stone the polemicist only raises his head during a Colin Powell speech in the war-room, when stirring music accompanies imagined dialogue about the potential folly of the Iraq adventure. That moment aside, it is a flimsy sort of affair, not properly satirical, not an out-and-out comedy, and certainly not the hatchet-job one might expect from liberal firebrand Oliver Stone (a wise choice on his part).
You might ask: what is the point though? We get to see Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks), as the wholesome Librarian who was taken in by W’s charm. We also have the accurate resemblance of Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney. But neither role offers anything revelatory or dramatic. What’s lacking are the kind of tensions that Peter Morgan found in the Frost/Nixon story, created by great confrontation and the lens of time passed. Maybe we’ll find it more poignant to mull over “W” in years to come, but for now: all eyes are on the Democrats and the young President Elect from Illinois.