Oliver Stone's Interesting Biopic About the 43rd US President
Josh Brolin gives a fine performance in the title role in W. (2008), a biopic about George W. Bush written by Stanley Weiser and directed by Oliver Stone. The filmmakers posit that the defining event in W's political career was the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and the movie's narrative focuses on President Bush and his advisers during the timeframe 2002 to 2004. But the film also flashes back to a chain of incidents spanning more than three decades that shaped W into the man who launched an all-out war against Saddam Hussein.
W. boasts a remarkable supporting cast. Playing W's advisers are Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey Wright as Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bruce McGill as CIA Director George Tenet, Thandie Newton as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Toby Jones as political strategist Karl Rove and Stacy Keach as a fictional preacher. W's father is portrayed by James Cromwell, his mother by Ellen Burstyn and his wife by Elizabeth Banks.
The film's version of W is a well-meaning man who is down to earth and not at all arrogant. However, he comes across as a shallow thinker who lacks good judgment. It's debatable as to how accurately the movie captures the real-life George W. Bush, but Stone's portrait of him is thought-provoking.
W. has neither the operatic tone nor the visual dazzle of Stone's Nixon (1995), but its more subdued style fits the story. There's evocative music on the soundtrack, including the song heard over the closing credits, Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side."
DVD Bonus Materials
The W. DVD comes with a few extras, the most worthwhile of which is the feature-length audio commentary by director Oliver Stone. He states he shot the film in 46 days in Shreveport. He gives his own views on George W. Bush and mentions several books he read in preparing the movie. Stone points out instances where artistic license was taken. For example, the character Rev. Earle Hudd (played by Stacy Keach) is a composite of about five different preachers. Also, the scene where W has a mystical experience while jogging with a hangover is invented — it's the filmmakers' way of dramatizing for the audience the decision the real-life W made at age 40 to quit drinking.
If you're interested in where key events in the movie found their inspiration and where creative liberties were taken, you'll want to use your computer to check out the DVD ROM feature "W.: The Official Film Guide." This is a PDF document that contains text and links to Web pages with articles sourcing biographical and historical content in the movie. There are also some references to books, such as Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward, The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind and A Charge to Keep by George W. Bush.
Finally, there's a dry 18-minute DVD video featurette titled "Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Legacy," which was written and directed by Oliver Stone's son, Sean Stone. Here a dozen talking-head political commentators give extremely negative assessments of certain government policies pursued during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Below I have listed all the details for the W. DVD.
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Feature Film Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language Including Sexual References, Some Alcohol Abuse, Smoking and Brief Disturbing War Images
Widescreen (2.35:1), Color
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Stone
Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Presidency (18 min.)
Filmmakers' Research and Annotations Guide (DVD ROM)