I’m going to start this review with a bit of geek rant; feel free to skip ahead if you can’t stomach it. I won’t judge you.
I’ve said before in this blog and elsewhere that Laura Roslin is my favorite character on the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica.” A lot of that comes down to the fact that I’ve been a Mary McDonnell fan for years, so it wasn’t a big leap for me.
In the beginning, Roslin is the Secretary of Education who is LBJ’d into office because she was the only government official who wasn’t planet-side when the bombs starting dropping. It’s shaky start, but she doesn’t fail and proves herself capable of great leadership. However, in the fourth season of the show (and to be fair, this really started in season three), she has become a full-blown dictator who is not interested in what others say because she knows she’s right, a dangerous trait in a leader.
It’s been quite an evolution for the show and the character, but every step along that path her choices have always made sense, which is how she has remained my favorite character (seriously, I’m going to be on her side up until the point when she starts eating babies; that’s what it’s going to take). I can understand her because I have been with her throughout her journey and with understanding comes love (Heinlein so had that right).
In that spirit, I came to “W.,” Oliver Stone’s biopic of our recently departed-from-office President Bush. The movie came out in the waning days of his second term and attempted to piece together the motivations behind a reviled public figure, not entirely dissimilar from “Frost/Nixon” and Stone’s own “Nixon” (1995).
After viewing the film, I’m not sure if “W.” is an accurate portrait of our 43rd president, but I must admit I’m not ready to understand. I’m not ready to forgive. I’m not ready to sympathize.
In Stone’s view, GWB is a man who continually failed in his life, could never life up to his father’s expectations and used his presidency as both a way to earn his father’s respect and/or love and to give the old man the finger at the same time.
My country went through eight years of hell (and who knows how many years of recovery) for that.
I don’t think that’s the full story; nothing is that simple. And while I walked away angrier at that administration that I have been since 2003, I don’t think it’s a film that’s going to hold up to scrutiny very well. Like a lot of biopics, it hits the highlights of the life without any great depth; the performances, even Josh Brolin as the man himself, come across as more caricature than character. The mixed-up structure doesn’t serve the film well, and I fear the older generations could watch this and miss most of the references. It’s a film for right now, and in no time at all it will not make sense.
One note I did like was the last shot, a close-up of Bush’s face as he attempts to catch an imaginary fly-ball; he’s a man that is not, for whatever reason, introspective or thoughtful or much of a thinker. We watch him and learn nothing about him; we can’t figure him out. Maybe his real story will never be told because he never wrote it down. Like that last shot, we can look all we want, but we’ll never know the truth in his mind.
More than anything, “W.” reminds me of a review I read about “Frost/Nixon;” the writer, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was lambasting the film for daring to paint Nixon as a sympathetic character. The critic was a reporter during the Watergate scandal and remembers what the man was like in that moment, and over 35 years later, he hasn’t forgotten (or forgiven) the rage of the time.
In thirty years, perhaps I will be able to view “W.” again with a better perspective of the man.
I’m not optimistic.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stanley Weiser
Starring: Josh Brolin (George W. Bush)
James Cromwell (George H.W. Bush)