MOVIE REVIEW- Countdown: Sad history of sad little man
There was no way W. could completely satisfy anyone. The President's detractors want a total hatchet job, whether serious or satirical, while his few remaining supporters want a hagiography that justifies and redeems the man as he hopes history will.Josh Brolin likewise straddles a line, one between impersonation and performance. He does it well, but the conflicting demands keep him from excelling at either.
The film advances on two tracks. Post 9/11 strategy meetings and subsequent events flash back to incidents in George W. Bush's life, presented in chronological order. They go back to 1966 when, at 20, he's pledging his father and grandfather's Yale fraternity, made up of "men of honor, decency, and God-given character," a brother says.
"That and our family fortunes is why we're gonna rule the world!" adds the future commander-in-chief.
W. is drunk at the time, and apparently most of the time until he finds God and dries out in 1988. In the meantime he gets arrested and fails at several jobs, always helped or bailed out by his father (James Cromwell), who, understandably, never seems to like him much.
While running (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 1977, W. meets the love of his life, Laura (Elizabeth Banks, bidding to be the next Mary Kay Place), at a barbecue. In a significant line, he tells his poker-playing buddies that if they invest in him they'll get their money back, one way or another.
In 1986 W. is pleased to be invited by his father– because favored son Jeb is unavailable– to help in his 1988 Presidential campaign. After his own conversion, W. tries to help his Episcopalian father court the religious right.
Running for governor of Texas in 1994, W. is warned by his mother, Barbara (Ellen Burstyn), "You're too much like me. You're loud, and you've got a short fuse." He's already inherited Karl Rove (Toby Jones) from his father as an advisor. Stone may be suggesting Rove is gay, not only casting an actor who recently played Capote but having him say "fabulous" once too often and refer to himself as a "fairy," albeit in a fantasy, not sexual way.
After W. is "called by God" in 1999 to run for President, the story picks up with the Iraq invasion. In the earlier debates, Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) is the only one to oppose the idea, but he finally caves when he sees the President won't change his mind. Those who help persuade W. are Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), while Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), George Tenet (Bruce McGill) and others just go along.
Rove brings it down to politics and Cheney to oil, but W. wants to make it a simple "Us vs. Them" that the common man can understand.
If W. were being made with posterity in mind, the supporting characters would be better identified. Viewers in 20 years will wonder who many of them are, just as people today are unfamiliar with minor figures in Watergate.
But W. was made for today and specifically intended to be released before the election, even though it's unlikely to affect the outcome. Considering the way it was rushed through production and post-production, it's very good in many ways, including the design and costuming of the many periods and locations involved.
On the other hand, many flaws can be blamed on the haste with which it was made, including visual and verbal anachronisms (W. would have said "rubbers," not "condoms," in 1971, and wouldn't have joked about "lesbian" being "the L-word" in the late ‘60s). The script contains several instances of facile exposition where someone tells someone else something they know about themselves (W. to his father: "You were on the greatest Yale baseball team of all time").
Music choices are often obvious, including "The Yellow Rose of Texas" played at least three times; but what's with Alan Jackson singing about Georgia's "Chattahoochee" over a scene at the Crawford, Texas ranch?
Those who follow the President on YouTube will enjoy seeing some of his greatest gaffes ("Fool me once...") recreated, while those looking for positives will find that he has a great memory and is a good runner. As W. struggles to earn his father's respect, you might feel a little bit sorry for him– if you don't feel sorrier for the country he destroyed.