Oliver Stone is no stranger at making films about ex Presidents of the United States, going back to JFK, Richard Nixon and now the 43rd President of the USA, which is more remarkable since George W. Bush is still around, and this film was made and released toward the end of his presidency, and by no means being less critical of what would be the obvious sore point during his term. W. was screened here in a special 2009 SIFF screening with Oliver Stone in attendance to present and conduct a Q&A session, but alas it was kind of last minute so only the lucky few from the Tisch school (they brought him in anyway) and those able to secure limited tickets were able to participate.
A film like this about local politicians will probably never be made here during my lifetime under similar circumstances, being a fictionalized account of key politicians and their policies that define their office, whether good, bad or controversial. JFK was more of a postmortem on his assassination in Texas, and Nixon began with shades of Watergate. So for this film, the decision to invade Iraq take centerstage, and in a brilliant opening scene once past a fantasy one with George W. Bush (Josh Brolin), come a jaw dropping Oval Office introduction with the key players that will play critical roles during that 8 years, such as Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), George Tenet (Bruce McGill) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), with the actors looking almost like the real McCoy through makeup and prosthetics.
And this mimicry didn't just stop at the Oval Office to maintain that level of authenticity, as it extended to that of Iraq War general Tommy Franks (Michael Gaston), his parents George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell) the ex President and wife Barbara Bush (Ellen Burstyn) and even foreign heads of state in Tony Blair (Ioan Gruffudd). But of course the best performance of them all is the titular character in George W, and Josh Brolin does an incredible job so much so that you would do a double take each time in a scene as he nails down mannerisms and voice, that it became really uncanny.
The narrative flashes back and forth, similar to that in Nixon, to showcase the growth and development of a man who started off as quite the slacker in life stuck with a prestigious last name that he found hard to live up to, and rather than opening doors felt that it was instead being used to unfairly measure his worth in life. The film deals with the daddy issues and frequent bust ups between Father and Son, with the Senior Bush always vocal to express Junior being his disappointment. So in some ways, George W is adamant in wanting to make a name for himself, and what more when he believes he's answering a call from God when making that challenge for the highest office in the land, against all odds and family, save for his wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), to want to make a name for himself and finally be respected.
But we know where all that went, with the many Bushisms that became like a tragic stand up comic. What made this film a compelling watch, is because of the many powerful though speculative scenes that Stone had crafted to pull you into the Oval Office and the backdoor wheelings and dealing shenanigans that go on, at times accentuating the point that the elites have powerful strings to pull and networks to count upon to push their agenda through. Many details throughout his formative years, and the run up to his decisions into and during his first term all come summarized in succinct fashion, with riveting conversations that will keep you glued as you agree or disagree to the perspectives put on the plate. Even something quite inconsequential, though making the headlines no less, like his pretzel choking also found its way here.
And in a mirror to the opening Oval Office scene came another in the Situation Room which I had enjoyed, since it deals with plenty of debate on the bigger picture and eventual revelation of the true intent for an invasion, and how to hoodwink everyone else in going with them into an unnecessary war. And to mirror this scene was yet another brilliantly crafted round table finger pointing session when things seem to run amok and beyond what they had expected, even though warning shots had been fired very early on. This scene I thought was a way where Stone can name and shame the entire cabinet and tell on their lack of integrity in keeping the country on a war keel. Which in ways also go against George W. Bush's born again faith, though you're left to your own devices to go into deep thought about it since scenes were limited (never forgotten with end of meeting prayers), though enough to impact.
Most incidents were skimmed over for favour of more character development, though you can always fill in the blanks with so many other films that were made which were critical of the same policies, or crafted to offer another viewpoint, such as Paul Greengrass' Green Zone in the soldiers search for non-existent WMD, or even the recent Naomi Watts starrer in Fair Game in dealing with the manipulation of limited intelligence used to justify the war.
This is an Oliver Stone film biography on a prominent politician so one can never expect it to be definitive, but just an angle from the filmmaker presented, with credible research being done to amalgamate key incidents from multiple sources with some dramatic license taken. It's not accurate history for sure, but an excellent cobbling of the gist of the moment and term of a president whose policies have impacted everyone around the world up to this day, and more so leaving a lot of pieces for the incumbent to pick up from. A definite recommended watch!
The Region 1 DVD by Lionsgate presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen format that is of impeccable visual quality, with audio available in English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and English 2.0 Dolby Digital, with subtitles in English and Spanish and scene selection over 24 Chapters. When the disc is popped into the player it autoplays with previews (5:00) for The Haunting in Connecticut, New in Town, and the following DVD previews (8:25) for Religulous, The Lucky Ones, Rambo and Control Room. and The Doors on Blu Ray (1:24).
There aren't a lot of Special Features packaged into it, but all of them were quality inclusions. The Audio Commentary with Director Oliver Stone is chock full of details, not of the technical kind, but containing so much more thoughts, ideas and opinions that Oliver Stone has on the character that obviously didn't have time to make it all into the film. You can get to hear this thoughts all the way, right to the end of the credit roll, and this is something not to be missed.
Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Legacy (17:47) has interviews with various personalities from writers to ex political staff detailing the various abuses by the Bush administration that runs against and contravenes plenty of what a democracy stands for, and the lines of separation of duties that got blurred. A Theatrical Trailer (1:34) is included, but the mother-load of extras here is the inclusion of a DVD-ROM: "W" - Filmmakers' Research and Annotations Guide, which is a whopping 108 page pdf file containing the sources, backgrounds, quotes, incidents, articles, statements and so on that highlight just how well researched this film was before hitting production. A definite read if your interest has been piqued by the film.
And rounding up the special features is Also From Lionsgate which is a set of preview trailers that were exactly the same as the set that autoplays.