Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Film Misunderestimated

"W" is Oliver Stones masterpiece. You may not think it, but it is. Stone is known for taking his subject and bludgeoning it in the back alley with a Truth Hammer. Recently, though, after historical epics and his Vietnam exorcisms, as well as his obsession with American presidents, Stone tackles the most controversial subject yet.

You might expect a blunt blunderbuss of a movie with a Make Up Gun set to "Whore". But W is something far more than that. You might expect a rampaging damnation of a mispresident who misunderestimated the times and made colossal errors of judgement and arrogance.

Instead W is a small, relatively subtle film. It isn't a comedy, or a damnation, and it isn't aimed at anyone, neither offending nor agreeing. Instead what it is a character study based upon a public image. The most important question it asks is not "How did this guy screw up so bad?", but "How did this guy become president?"

Ultimately it's a tragedy ; about a man who found himself in a position far beyond his capabilities, unafraid to break every rule where the ends justify the means, and surrounded - one might say even directed - by his aides until he became a bare mouthpiece. Even though he says at one point "I'm the decider", all he decides is who gets to push him around.

And the tragedy is not for "W", who gets to succeed the ambitions of the rest of his family, but for everyone else who gets to live in a world he shaped. A lazy, and workshy sarcastic and insensitive drunk who uses God as a crutch to become President. What is frightening is that this is probably beyond parody. It would be unlikely this would be seen as plausable were it a work of fiction, and the terrifying thing is that less than 100 days ago, this man had the codes to launch the missles.

Having lived the times of the film, as indeed many of us have, it is odd to see our memories being remade as fiction. There are well known quotes from Bush himself that pop up with far less viciousness or frequency than you might expect, but in strange places. All the classic howlers are there, but in new and strange contexts.

From a film point of view : the cast and performances are stunning. Not exact embodiments (the Tony Blair is brief, and resembles some kind of vague underling who never carries the authority of office). The editing is non-linear, following a thematic exploring of parts of Bush's personality, and Josh Brolin simply is George Bush. Same with most of the rest of the cast. They are obvious not the people themselves, but as a representation of spirit, they become the characters.

Ultimately this is a sympathetic film about a man so far out his depth he doesn't even realise how far out he is. And the message of the film, if there is one, is that when Bush went out of his depth, he dragged us all down with him, and the tragedy is not the mistakes he made, but the mistakes of the system that allowed him to rise to the top. A subtle, unjudgemental film about a man beyond his abilities and a nation dragged behind his wake.


Planet Me said...

Can't imagine the first choice - Christian Bale - being "W". He pulled out at very short notice. Josh Brolin deserved the statue.

Taronja said...

Good review.
I watched 'W' as well and I share your views. I even felt sorry for GW after seeing how his dad treated him- like his most inferior sprog.