Starring: Josh Brolin ... George W. Bush
Colin Hanks ... Speechwriter #1
Toby Jones ... Karl Rove
Dennis Boutsikaris ... Paul Wolfowitz
Jeffrey Wright ... Colin Powell
Thandie Newton ... Condoleezza Rice
Scott Glenn ... Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Dreyfuss ... Dick Cheney
Bruce McGill ... George Tenet
Wes Chatham ... Fraternity Enforcer
Jesse Bradford ... Fraternity President
James Cromwell ... George H.W. Bush
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Synopsis: ***Warning*** - contains spoilers! In center field of Rangers Ballpark, we see George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) standing with a glove on his hand. He turns around and listens to the cheers greeting him as an unseen announcer introduces him to invisible crowds as the 43rd president of the United States of America. We then cut to a cabinet meeting in early 2002, where W is in a deep discussion about how soon they should respond to the recent terrorist attacks on their country by attacking the Axis of either evil or terror (they can't decide which it should be), although Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) is reluctant to go to war with either Iraq or Iran, given that it was a non-affiliated terrorist named Osama Bin Laden who was behind it, although both VP Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Condi Rice (Thandie Newton) are quick to remind him that both are terrorist holders. George Tenet (Bruce McGill) supports Colin in his way of thinking as Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) laugh behind their hands at him. Eventually Axis of Terror is decided on and the war gets greenlit. Before the meeting is adjourned, W gets everyone together and has them bow their heads in prayer, although more than a few of them clearly don't have their heart in it.
Thirty-six years earlier, in 1966, we see a much younger W at Yale during pledge week. One of his fellow pledges is challenged to name as many brothers as he is able to, and he manages to get seven. Another brother challenges someone to beat that, and W steps forward, stopping only when the lead brother tells him to and getting great cheers for being true Delta Kappa Epsilon material. We then cut to a jail where W is calling his father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell, who should get a supporting actor nomination) at home, explaining that there was a "misunderstanding" after a football game. George bails his son out and when next we enter his life he is working on one of his family oil rigs. He takes a break for water and when the foreman yells at him to get back to work, he quits instead. Later on, we see him in a bar with his girlfriend Susie (Marley Shelton) and he gives her a somewhat long-winded proposal and gets up on the bar to dance with her. A few years later, though, he is once again coming before his father. This time, W. is asking George to bail him out of the marriage-that-never-got-official. George agrees to it, but then expresses his disappointment with W., especially regarding the fact that he only got Cs at Yale and can't seem to hold a job for more than six months. For his part, W. ignores the criticism and just walks out.
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Cheney and W are sitting down to lunch in the oval office. After a little preamble
regarding the upcoming war, Cheney takes out a small folder. He explains that inside are some ideas regarding possible interrogation techniques that could be instituted at places such as Guantanamo. W. balks at first, worried that there would be stuff like pulling out toenails, but Cheney assures him that it would be nothing lethal, using examples such as sleep deprivation and water torture to make his point. W is reassured and promises to look at the three-page report. As lunch ends, W then asks Cheney to kindly keep his ego in check, since he's only the vice-president, and an insulted-looking Cheney nods and walks out. A few days later, at the Bush ranch, W. is having a walk and talk with some members of his cabinet (Rummy, Dick, Condi, a couple others) and General Thomas Franks (Michael Gaston) regarding a start date for the war, which Franks suggests as April/May/June. Some time later, we see W. watching a college football game and eating pretzels with his dog when he suddenly begins choking. He staggers around the office and comes behind a recliner. He starts pounding himself on the chest with it and is eventually successful in dislodging the pretzel from his throat just as he collapses to the floor, unconscious.
In 1972, we see W. and his brother Jeb (Jason Ritter) driving up to the Bush home in the middle of the night and drunk as a skunk. They stagger into the house where George and Barbara (Ellen Burstyn) start yelling at W. about coming home so drunk in the middle of the night. W. starts posturing as though he wants to fight George when Jeb intervenes saying that George was out celebrating his acceptance into Harvard Business School. This changes the attitude of barb and George, but W. then admits he's not going -- he just wanted to see if he could get in. This admission prompts George to admit that he only got in because George had pulled some strings with the admissions board. When next we see W., five years have passed and he is playing poker with some friends at Harvard and announcing to them that he plans to run for governor. At a celebratory barbeque, he meets a beautiful young woman named Laura Welch (Elizabeth Banks). Laura reminds him that they went to junior high together and the two slowly warm to each other, with her telling him that she's a teacher and always tries to see all sides of an argument, making W. want to appoint her his education adviser. Some time later, we see him in a debate against Kent Vance (Paul Rae), whose strategy seems to be pointing out that Bush is not a real Texan, having been born in Connecticut (HEY! *seethes*) and gone to school in Connecticut. Despite W.'s assertions to a softly understanding Laura that this is nothing but tarring and feathering, he still manages to lose the election, albeit by a mere 6,000 votes.
Back in 2002, we see Bush standing in the field again, listening to the cheers. Back in reality, we see another cabinet meeting where he and his advisors are discussing the need for a regime change in Iraq. In 1986, W. and Laura are at a birthday party for W. when he gets a call from George, who wants W. to help with his campaigning for president, which causes W. to announce that he and Laura are moving to Washington when he returns to the restaurant table. Not long after, W. is heading out for a morning run. At one point, he stops due to chest pains and collapses on the side of the road. Three months later, we see him in an alcoholics anonymous meeting being headed by Rev. Earle Hudd (Stacy Keach). After the meeting has been ended, W. hangs around and prays with Hudd, saying that most of the time he feels this great weight on his shoulders. In 1988, at the convention HQ, George is having a meeting with his advisers, which includes Karl Rove, when W. enters. The meeting is ended and W. shows his father a videotape by the Bush camp smearing Dukakis, citing his decision to give weekend visits to convicted criminals (Willie Horton). This is enough to dissuade voters, who make George the 41st President of the United States. Despite the celebration, though, W. himself isn't pleased. Late that night, he confesses to Laura that he almost wanted George to lose, since he constantly feels as though he's living in George's shadow and has to live up to him.
In 2002, Bush and co. are in a war room, and the current topic of discussion is the location of any possible Weapons of Mass Destruction. Rumsfeld makes the argument that they are most likely in either Tikrit or Baghdad. Cheney agrees and points out that if they don't act they will lose the advantage they have now, although, as Powell points out, they have no exit strategy and no real American presence. However, after a video call to General Franks, they get confirmation that they expect to have over three hundred thousand troops in Iraq, and that that should speed things up nicely.
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In 1990, W. is having a conversation with his father over whether or not having faith in God would be of help to him in winning the war in the Persian Gulf. One year later, we see George in the war room with his cabinet celebrating their imminent victory in the Gulf. When asked by Powell if he feels they should have pushed, George decisively says that they went far enough and now need to concentrate on winning the next election. Unfortunately, winning the war wasn't enough and the presidency is given over to Bill Clinton. George is devastated and W. is angry. He decides to run for Governor of Texas, despite George and Barbara begging him to wait, since Jeb is running for Governor of Florida and they can't be in both states at once, but he refuses to listen. Later on, we see W out campaigning for governorship with Rove's advice, which in brief is to get across that he is who he is and no other Bush (at one point in here, we see him asking the famous, "Is our children learning?" question). Regardless, he gets elected governor and as a congratulations prize is given a pair of cufflinks by George and a note saying how proud he is. However, this is not enough for W., who is instead offended that George still can't tell him he's proud face-to-face. Five years later, in 1999, we see W. in his office when he gets a visit from Earle Hudd. He tells Hudd that he feels he has gotten the call, and then explains that he is talking about the call to be president. Hudd is ecstatic for him, and W. says that he thinks that there will be a bad time for the country, and that God wants him as president in order to help the American people through it. Hudd nods in complete belief, and the two get down on their knees to pray for W.'s delivery to the office of the president.
Four years later, in 2003, we see W. giving the state of the union as those who wrote it congratulate each other at various points. Back in the cabinet, W. is determined not to jeopardize their chances in Iraq, despite the massive amounts of protest the war is getting. In a meeting with Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd), W. tries to barter for some help from Britain, although Tony is reluctant to commit his own country's troops. Regardless, W. is determined to win in Iraq, even as his parents grow more and more worried about how things are going for him. At last, though, things turn dark for him and the rest of his cabinet when they find out that Saddam had lied about having Weapons of Mass Destruction, which makes them all look bad. In truth, the caves that were to have the WMDs were lines of cattle showing up on their scans, an error which forces David Kay to resign from his office. Regardless, W. still holds steady, staying committed and visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals. One young Mexican soldier says that he's sorry he can't fight for him, and W. tells him to not worry, that now they're all fighting for him. One night, he and Laura are heading to sleep, and W. reflects on what he has done and realizes that the only thing he can still do is fight to keep his place. Later, we see him enter the oval office when he finds George there waiting for him. George says that he's really in deep, even after he pulled W's ass out of that jam in Florida, and he starts posturing as though wanting to fight W (note -- in this scene more than any other, Brolin is the spitting image of W.). W. starts yelling at George to go away and leave him alone when he suddenly wakes up screaming, realizing that it was just a nightmare. Some time later, we see W. at a press conference where he is continuing to hold support for the war, but the looks on the reporter's faces indicate that they're not buying it anymore. One reporter asks what W. feels his place in history will be, and W. says, "In history? Well, in history we'll all be dead." Another reporter asks W. if he feels he may have made any mistakes in his presidency, and W. stammers that he's been kind of caught off-guard here. Eventually, the press-conference ends and W. storms off into the residential area of the white house, going to his bedroom. When he opens the door, W. is standing in the middle of Ranger's stadium on a cool autumn night. The invisible crowd is cheering, and the ball is hit towards W. He raises his hand to catch it, and--
W. looks around. The whole stadium is silent. There are no players, no announcers, no crowds, and no ball. He searches the empty field around him, and he sees that the ball is nowhere nearby. Slightly panicked, W. looks around the field some more, trying to find the ball he lost so he can keep on playing....
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Top Contributors: emperornik, silverfox5k, Gaud123, D-Man2010 (imdb)
Review: by James Rocchi, Cinematical.com ***Warning*** - contains spoilers!
After seeing Oliver Stone's W., I found myself wishing I had a little more time to think it over before writing a review; then again, I'm sure there are some involved with the film who found themselves wishing they had a little more time to think over the Bush administration before making it. Distance grants perspective, or so we're told; what could a film about the life and presidency of George W. Bush released while he's still in office really have to say about his life and times? If distance grants perspective, though, you could also argue that proximity grants immediacy, and argue that Stone's W. is not meant as a somber, serious look back but rather a cautious, nervy attempt to peer into the recent past, a film with, in the words another Presidential candidate recently borrowed, "the fierce urgency of now."
But W. has plenty of urgency; you could argue that what it lacks is a point of view, or rather a point of view other than Freudian family psychodrama, with George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) fighting for the presidency and fighting in Iraq as a way to earn the respect and love of his distant, driven father George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell). But to many, examining the inner life of George W. Bush is like asking yourself about the source of the lumber when you're being hit in the head with a baseball bat. We get a lot of dialogue in W. about the difference between the external and the internal, between ideology and identity; Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks) offers that "I don't think politics should define a human being ..." while George H.W. notes that "I've always believed in leaving personal feelings out of politics." But in W., it feels like Stone doesn't even want to let politics define politics, and leaving the politics out of the personal feelings he's exploring.
W.'s tone is also bizarrely uneven. Some of the performers (Brolin, Thandie Newton, Richard Dreyfuss) hurl themselves into looking, speaking and moving like the real people they play; other performers (James Cromwell, Toby Jones and Scott Glenn among them) do not. This disconnect has the curious effect of making some moments in W. play like a wig-and-makeup slapdash parody of the real presidency it's supposed to depict; on the other hand, some would say that the Bush administration was, itself, a parody of a real presidency. Is W. a serious drama, or a nightmare comedy of power, privilege and parental friction played out on the global stage? I lean towards the latter, even if Stone plays his cards relatively close to the vest; there's a scattering of dreamlike moments, but the tone is scary-funny, even if most of W. consists of people talking in well-furnished rooms. What elevates it from psychodrama is what they're talking about; before the invasion of Iraq, Dick Cheney (Dreyfuss) explains how the exit strategy for Iraq is not to exit, staying in the region to take oil and leave freedom. "Empire. Real Empire. Nobody will ever fuck with us again."
It's a great moment, and there aren't enough like it; as Dreyfuss' Cheney, Glenn's Rumsfeld and Jones' Rove hover about W., getting him to do the things they want by making him think they're what he wants, you feel like Stone's filming the voyage of the ship of state and trying to get us inside the head of the wooden figurehead carved into the bow instead of the people actually steering the vessel. And it's a voyage that isn't even over; when Stone flashes up a climactic title card reading "The End," I stared at the screen slack-jawed at what was either monstrous naiveté or deliberate provocation; The financial system is in its death throes, American troops are still in Iraq, and we'll be paying for the Bush Administration in blood and treasure for years, if not decades, to come. It's not "The End" of anything for America; it's the beginning, but if Stone's trying to warn us of further adventures in the Middle East (and the film explicitly depicts the neocon interest in Iran),then why burn up screen time with W.'s drinking and thinking, both revolving around the absence of his father's love? Brolin does a lot to sell W.'s pain; actually, he does a lot to sell the film. Even when his Bush is a callow youth, you sense how he's destined for greatness; even when his Bush has attained greatness, you still get a sense of the little boy inside. It will, for some people, take a lot to make them feel sorry for George W. Bush; Brolin's performance may very well do it.
A friend offered how he wished W. was "Stonier," and while it's hardly an elegant turn of phrase, I know exactly what he means; Stone's a master technician, and he understands and exploits film as a medium in a way that's distinctively his, taking advantage of how film can be shot, cut, edited, affected and altered to craft distinctive visions and visuals in the service of his stories. There aren't a lot of over-the-top Stone moments in W., nothing to match the crazed inventions of Natural Born Killers or the hammer-blow clinical editing of JFK, but we do get a few moments of flash and flair, like W.'s post-hangover run where he has the epiphany to stop drinking, his face in such stark focus we can smell the booze leaking from his pores while the trees and sky above bloom and blur in the breeze and the sunlight.
Stanley Weiser's screenplay impresses when it gets up the guts to snarl a little, like when Jeffery Wright's Colin Powell barks to Cheney "Don't patronize me, mister five deferments ..." or when a news commentator notes of the infamous "Mission Accomplished" stunt when a flight-suit clad Bush landed his plane on an aircraft carrier and swaggered to the podium that "He didn't fight in the war, but he looks like he did. ..." But it also makes minor fumbles, too: Iraq war protest footage is cut over Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," a '60s relic under post-millennial footage. (Whenever a filmmaker breaks out the Time-Life Sounds of the '60s singles for a montage, all I can hear is a roaring voice screaming "The bums lost, Mr. Lebowski! The bums lost!")
Weiser's best contribution -- which Stone and Brolin bring to life in a rich, haunting way -- comes in the moments scattered through the film with George W. Bush alone in a baseball stadium. At one point, he's reveling in the roars of a crowd that isn't there; in another, he races to the back wall to make a lucky catch; finally, in the film's final moments, Bush is ready in the outfield, hears the crack of the bat and races back to field the hit, even though it never comes. Perhaps Oliver Stone did rush this film; perhaps it could have benefited from a few years of perspective instead of a few weeks. But then we wouldn't have the perfect timing of that deftly turned closing image: W. opens in theaters as an election looms, as American mega-capitalism chokes on its own arrogance and greed, as dead American soldiers are still being offloaded from transports in flag-draped coffins far from the view of the press and the general public (and Iraqi civilians simply die far away). What started as parody and comedy builds to a haunting final moment thanks to Stone, Weiser and Brolin, and in W.'s final seconds it is not just George W. Bush who's waiting for the ball to drop, it is all of us.
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