pic"W." shows him to be a man of principle and caring, though a bit hijinks-committed as a stripling, OK–but now deeply faithful–surprising from a man like director Oliver Stone, maker of big, entertaining films about significant people, but often not reliable histories of the eponymous films created.

Another guilty pleasure, in a way, these Oliver Stone films:

as works of art, they are above-average entertainment, although don’t mistake them for documentaries. “JFK,” for instance, was a terrific movie, but anyone who bases his or her understanding of the assassination on Stone's movie will be severely misinformed. Likewise, the darker biopic, “Nixon,” which while very involving was not the valentine to the former president that “W.” appears to be. Stone is not Michael Moore. Watching this enjoyable though not heavily ground-breaking Texas through White house trawl, I feel Stone disappoints the Bush Derangement syndrome avatars, and went out of his way not to do the kind of over-the-top ‘coverage’ that Moore certainly shaves his name into.

One has to wonder at the timing of the release. Since the election is so close, surely he meant to piggyback on the possible frisson factor of getting the goods on the sitting president as he enjoys his last months in the nation’s Capitol. But since one emerges from the film liking this George more than one went in with, and it certainly does not affirm any of the distortions that have been bruited about the reasons for our entry into the Iraqi and Afghani military enterprises, one again is put to the question: Why make the movie?

The casting of many of the strategic roles is itself a hoot, and you see how deliciously Richard Dreyfuss (not my namesake) licks his chops at being the brilliant though carefully cloaked Dick Cheney. Likewise, Scott Glenn does one of his few wrong turns in the industry with his obdurate, snarky Don Rumsfeld. Condoleezza Rice is done a disservice, it seems to this reviewer, by the usually lovely Thandie Newton; she is nasal, whiny, servile, and wound even tighter than the original, but she comes off , as written here, as an insignificant twerpy entity nipping at the heels of the President. Elizabeth Banks does a gorgeous Laura, and I too fell in love with her (she’s lovely, supportive, kind, literate, kind of what the ideal wife should be in the best of all bests). Barbara Bush is brought to vivid life by a tough Ellen Burstyn, matched by Bush 41, reserved, careful and patrician, as evoked by the dependable player of presidents and senators, James Cromwell.

The image of Truman Capote dithering beatifically over the proceedings was distracting, because someone (mistakenly) cast Toby Jones in the role of ‘the Architect,” Karl Rove. Jones is a good actor, and he bears a surface resemblance on some level to Rove, but he just played diminutive gay scribe Truman Capote, and he still looks too much like him in the mind’s recent imprint. Rove has a different valence than Jones and this impression was erroneous. Jeffrey Wright bore the necessary gravitas for Colin Powell.

The film intercuts the past and present, omitting the campaigning process for Bush 43, omitting various crises, but showing the various Cabinet trials and Middle East challenges, showing the younger Bush through his Yale-Harvard years, as a good ol’ fratboy with a huge round of friends, his oil days, highly telegenic Americana and keggers…but also as the baseball team owner, and as the successful campaign manager for his father’s huge 1988 trouncing of Dukakis.

Overwhelming experience as the film unspooled: surprise: If Stone wanted us to dislike or distrust the man, we don’t. Instead, we watch a strongly principled man who means well, is devout (too-long absent Stacy Keach inhabits his pastor-evangelist, Earl Hudd, with delicate unctuousness and presence), loves his country, his deft and delightful wife, and his daily 3-mile runs.

Drudge carried a small item from Jeb Bush, right after the former Florida governor saw the film, that called the spine of the film, George’s strident Oedipal rivalry with their dad, “Hooey.” But the film can be enjoyed for its own sake, if one can put aside cherished misconceptions and petty rage. For the unhysterical, this is a not-unpleasurable viewing experience. If you’re fair (it probably won’t cure Bush Derangement Syndrome, unfortunately), you’ll enjoy this well-crafted biopic.

Will it have any impact on the election? TBD.


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