by RICK GRANT
W’s director, Oliver Stone said in a recent interview that his film’s portrayal of W is empathetic. After viewing the picture, I concur with his assessment. Written by Stanley Weiser, the story involves a man desperately trying to earn his old man, Bush Sr.’s respect. W had to work hard to overcome his status as the black sheep of the family, and even as president, he still had to prove himself to his father.
The Texas frat-boy’s wild youth, mediocre grades in high school and college, and his humiliation at learning his dad pulled strings for him, continually frustrated him. And finally, his jealously of his younger brother Jeb, who was the high achiever of the family, haunted him. In the end, viewers can’t help but empathize with GW.
But it’s a story without an ending. As W rides into the sunset with unprecedented low approval ratings and the public believing he lied to justify his authorization of the Iraq War, his place in history is yet to be written. Who knows, in the future, historians may see the war in Iraq as W’s greatest accomplishment, sparking the beginning of the democratization and peace in the Middle East.
The movie opens with a post 9/11 cabinet meeting in the Oval Office with W’s gaggle of conniving war mongers who were beating the drums of war with flimsy intelligence. VP Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfus) wants to “drain the swamp” and rule the Middle East as an empire. Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) is ready to invade Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein to bring democracy to the region, leaving only Iran as a threat to the region. Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) is the only voice of reason. He wants United Nations approval to move ahead with an invasion of Iraq. But he is overruled by W’s cabinet. More importantly, Powell argued that the intelligence was unreliable at best.
James Cromwell’s portrayal of Bush Sr. is remarkably restrained and dignified as are most of the other characters orbiting W’s life. Writer Weiser included short periods of satire but overall he tried to present a fair portrayal of the players in this political passion play. The flashbacks to W’s early days of partying and womanizing depict a young man who knew he had it made and took his position in the Bush family for granted. He tries various jobs and quits after a few months. Bush Sr. is disgusted at his son’s hedonistic lifestyle. Yet, Bush Sr. gives W the benefit of the doubt and prays that he settles down.
One day while running, W has an epiphany and goes home and tells Laura (Elizabeth Banks) that he intends to clean up his life and quit drinking. But viewers will not buy this version. It’s more likely that Laura gave W an ultimatum-it’s the booze or me. So, W starts attending AA meetings and becomes a born again Christian.
Still, W lives under the shadow of his father, and is determined to do his own thing. So, he decides to run for the Congress from Texas and loses. Then he decides to run for Governor of Texas. With Bush Sr.’s help, he wins. This is a significant moral victory for W, whose idea turned to reality. For the first time he felt like he was his own man.
Then under pressure from his family, W runs for president. Yes, we all know what happened in Florida and the Supreme Court ruling. But the script implies that Bush Sr. pulled strings for sonny-boy. Of course, conservatives ruled the Supreme Court and that doomed Gore.
Suddenly one morning, W woke up the President of the United States. He was intellectually ill-equipped to deal with such a lofty position. When 9/11 happened, W was paralyzed with fear during that seven minute dead air time on TV. It showed that he was waiting for someone to tell what to do. After that, W became a puppet of his scheming cabinet. They spoke and W’s lips moved.
Put into perspective, this movie presents W’s story as a parable of a man struggling to find his groove, against all odds. As a two-term president, at least he has that satisfaction when he retires back to his ranch with his beloved dogs and Laura. Yeah, as a private citizen, I’d enjoy a visit and a nonalcoholic beer with W at his ranch.
Oliver Stone’s film is a fair and sometimes funny portrayal of W’s rise to prominence. When all is said and done, W overcame many obstacles to emerge as the leader of the free world for 8 years. He can take that to his old age with pride.
by RICK GRANT