Tepid telling of 43rd president's rise to power.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that adults are more likely than kids to be interested in this high-profile film about the life of President George W. Bush. The movie spends half its time examining what appears to be a dysfunctional relationship between Bush and his father (an account that the people portrayed may not agree with) and the other half looking at a presidency that may have been too reliant on other types of dysfunctional relationships (it's not clear whether it's all fact-based). Bush's early struggles with alcoholism are examined -- there are tons of scenes of him drinking -- as is his search for a higher purpose. There's also a fair amount of swearing (including "f--k") and cigarette smoking.
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What's the Story?
Oliver Stone's third presidential biography -- following JFK and Nixon -- tells the story of the nation's 43rd commander in chief: George W. Bush (Josh Brolin). The son of a former president, the film posits that Bush appears to have risen to the nation's highest office against expectations, given his aimless, hard-partying past. The film traces his metamorphosis from the 1960s to the present.
Is It Any Good?
More restrained than Stone's other films, W.'s strength is Brolin, who appears to have inhabited Bush's skin. His facial expressions, cadence, carriage -- the actor has almost discomfitingly captured it all, turning in a nuanced performance that might even get some of Dubya's biggest critics to feel for the guy. That's because Brolin's (and Stone's) Bush is haunted by a longing for his father's approbation and driven to delineate differences between his and his father's presidencies. Surrounding him is a cadre of power brokers -- Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), and Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), for starters -- eager to yank his strings, even as Bush tries to declare independence from paternal control.
But here's the movie's weakness: For all the material that Stone had to work with, W. feels strangely tepid for a story that's still playing out in the headlines (and headed for the history books). The storytelling is jumbled and superficial, except for when it explores Bush's relationship with his father. But even then, the struggle seems paint-by-numbers (so does Thandiwe Newton's wooden portrayal of Condoleeza Rice, which is all twitches and grimaces). In the end, we don't end up knowing Bush all that well -- and nor, it appears, does Bush.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the film's point of view on the younger Bush's presidency. What appears to have influenced his policies? How is this shown? What about the movie's focus on the father-son dynamic? How does director Oliver Stone portray that relationship's importance and influence over the presidency? Families can also discuss how accurate they think the film is. Why might filmmakers bend the truth when making a movie based on real life? Do you think Stone had a specific agenda in making this movie? If so, what was it?
- In theaters: October 16, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 10, 2009
- Cast: Colin Hanks, Josh Brolin, Thandiwe Newton
- Director: Oliver Stone
- Studio: Emperor Motion Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images.
- Last updated: December 2, 2022
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