The Red Right Hand
  www.theredrighthand.co.uk





W.
A Life Misunderestimated

Director
Oliver Stone

Starring
Josh Brolin
Elizabeth Banks
James Cromwell
Richard Dreyfuss

I love this shit! People wouldn't think it of me but I am genuinely enamoured with political bio-dramas; especially American ones. It's the same as keeping up with American politics, I have absolutely no need to and yet I find the puppet show proceedings hilarious. Even as a young man, I read countless books on political science and current affairs (no real reason to, just a genuine interest) and from 2000 onwards I was reading all I could get my hands on about the Bush/Blair administrations. If you're curious, there's a whole wealth of crap, ranging from informative to propaganda; all of which remain quite entertaining. So, going into a film about the history of Bush's Whitehouse, I was expectedly optimistic yet cautious at the same time. I also have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Oliver Stone's work; sometimes he has produced astounding pieces and on other occasions he has generated sheer waffle.

The plot, so to speak, is a tad baffling simply because the audience is constantly questioning Stone's agenda: 'Is this a damning liberal piece?' 'Is it simply a pro-Bush flick' 'What's the point he's trying to make here?' To be honest, this is probably the closest to the truth the public will ever get but because the truth largely consists of fairly dull matters, we're all a little phased; that and every man, woman and child knows the name Bush and have their own preconceptions of the man - one film more than likely isn't going to change their minds.

As with the Coen brothers, this film is marred by a typical Oliver Stone pacing. For those familiar with Stone's previous endeavours, he likes to take the time to tell his story his way, this means a lot of bouncing around timelines or making very clear political statements or juggling an array of main characters or simply squeezing every possible resource. Alternatively, W. seems to avoid the usual formula and will probably be the most neutral film Stone has ever produced. In an attempt to show the public a side of the president that hasn't been seen yet, Stone has unfortunately opted to avoid all major issues - you won't hear a great deal of Bush-speak, you won't see him sitting in a classroom on 9/11 and you won't see one gram of cocaine or marijuana. Then there's the score; my God, it was bloody awful! Almost everything was some hang-diddly, down south bullshit country music or distinctive piano pieces during speeches - terrible! To be fair, the faults are few but they carry such weight that they affect the film so profoundly.

Similar to John Adams, the other members of the cabinet play back-seat to the man himself, emphasising the focus. At present, I'm not overly sure if I liked that or not. Granted, this is a film about Bush but part of me wanted to explore the surrounding character's lives and motives - and if anyone could tell that kind of story, it would be Oliver Stone. Having said that, I did enjoy the sole focal-point structure; altering the film's categorisation from a study of political office to an individualistic character study. The characters themselves were also astoundingly impressive. On reading the cast list, I was genuinely gobsmacked as to some of the choices made but seeing them on-screen, the adoption of mannerisms, accents and postures add up to offer perfect embodiments of the original sources. All except for Ioan Gruffudd as Tony Blair and despite his exceptional overall performance, keeping Brolin to play Bush at 19 wasn't exactly the smartest of moves to make - not sure what they were thinking there. In addition, the timeline structure worked well, starting in 2002 with the birth of the phrase 'Axis of evil' occasionally darting back-and-forth to key events from 1966 onward, detailing Bush's personal struggles with alcohol, discovery of God and introduction to politics.

One of the final scenes highlights a familiarly confused Bush struggling for words in a press meeting. Having endured two hours of this man's struggle for acceptance by his father and country, you start to feel sorry for him, then you're slapped with the truth that this man entered politics for all the wrong reasons and gave rise to one of the worst administrative periods in US history. For this reason (and the fact that the film only shows certain elements of the Bush administration, before it has even come to a close) the film fails terribly. It's not like me to cry out 'too soon!' but this film has simply been made without the necessary hindsight. In 1995, Stone directed the critically acclaimed Nixon, a three and a half hour beast with a few revisionist elements outlining President Nixon's life, twenty one years after he left office. Due to this all-important chronological gap, a broader picture was told and the effects could be clearly seen and understood; which subsequently led to the film receiving four Oscar nominations. However, it's too soon for W. and in a time of political strife and financial recession, nobody really wants this film. It will probably find its audience ten years from now but until then, this movie will no doubt be spurned by liberals wanting a hanging and republicans wanting to distance themselves from this man. In a similar way that Munich was a fantastic film with one fatal flaw (not choosing a side), W. will probably suffer and fall but still remains a brilliant character study of a man countless millions have demonised.

Just to clarify, I still think he's a bit of a knob.

Release Date:
7th November 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
The war-room scenes are probably the most entertaining, next to the arguments between Jnr. and his presidential father [Cromwell]. They allow the characters that these actors have so effectively embodied to simply play. Cheney is clearly a power-hungry git, Rove lurks in the shadows overseeing everything, Rice constantly frowns and Rumsfeld sits there smiling away, assuring those present that everything is fine. The most enjoyable meeting is when Bush is finally informed that there are no WMDs, loses his rag and paces around the table demanding to know 'who is in charge!?'

Notable Characters:
As stated, all involved did amazing jobs of portraying the political heads assigned to them but Richard Dreyfuss becomes Vice President, Dick Cheney so wholly and flawlessly that at times it is quite unnerving. Every characteristic, every mannerism and every manic thought behind his eyes are explored so thoroughly that he simply steals every scene he enters. A word should also be said about Jeffrey Wright's version of Colin Powell - as with his colleagues, his performance is praiseworthy but the script itself seems to almost make a saint of the military man, leaving him one of the only characters seemingly flawless and therefore a little unbelievable.

Highlighted Quote:
"Control Iran, control Eurasia, control the world. Empire, real empire. Nobody will ever fuck with us again"

In A Few Words:
"Interesting character study about a simple man who didn't belong in the Whitehouse but without taking sides, says so little"

Total Score:
8/10


Matthew Stogdon