I can only assume Stone’s message in W. is that the roa to hell s paved with good intentions. It’s unfortunately only as the end credits begin to roll that this becomes apparent and it pales against the virtuous lyricisms of Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side”. Though a failed film, W. is still an interesting failure and I have to recommend it.
Both the left and right have condemned Stone’s film for wildly disparaging reasoning. Speaking both or the film’s unevenness and it’s refreshing humanity. Though it doesn’t avoid the easy jokes and jabs at the president, the film still manages to be very sympathetic. The Freudian father psychology is painfully overwrought, though in principle, it does serve to understand some facets of the Dubya mentality.
As I’m writing this review, I’m very conflicted as to how I should treat it. It never paints itself as a documentary, though, so embedded with modern times it’s easy to confuse fact with fiction. I am not politically savvy as perhaps I ought to be, but I’ve been told my friends that so much of the film is inaccurate and fabricated, though I had only assumed this beforehand (what is real and what isn’t is what traps me). My feelings are mixed as result, and the only real conclusion I’ve come to is that W. of the real worl is an extremely elusive and complicated man.
For the sake of my own sanity, continue reading the review under the assumption I am talking about a fictional Bush rather than the real one, if it’s even possible for me to distinguish the two.
I am surprised at how Stone manages to strike a centered balance between laughs and sympathy. For every vocal misstep, there is almost always a searing pain that I’m misunderestimating a well… good person. Even amidst the boozing and philandering of his youth, the film can’t help painting George W. Bushh as a good man. You do feel as though you’d want him as your friend, and he does have the natural charisma of a leader. Even his apparent stupidity does not seem so great as he has a natural political touch and a strong emotional perception (there is more than one type of intelligence, and Dick Cheney aside, W. seems very much in tune with the intentions and needs of those who surround him).
Though presented at times with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek, even Bush’ religion is presented with sincerity. The film gives him the benefit of the doubt that he is a true believer, and he is not using his religion to his political advantage. It is, after all, his religion that lifted him from the depths and put him on the right path.
It’s unfortunately at this point that Stone’s political analysis seems to fall flat. Having successfully painted the President as a good, well meaning man the film seems to fall flat to persuade that his good intentions are not enough. The real world has made this painfully obvious, but Stone’s film unfortunately does not. Though concerned with the Iraq situation, the film paints this segment with too broadly with caricatures. I’m not suggesting the film should have dropped the comedy, but it should have perhaps been more thoughtful. Some of the scenes work so beautifully on both levels, but many do not. Too often, Dubya’s good nature are overshadowed by his need for cheetos. It strikes me as unfair.
At the same time, it’s painfully obvious that this is a man over his head. Not stupid, but unprepared and misinformed. He has faith that God is on his side, on America’s side and that’s enough to guide him right. The film paints Dick Cheney as evil incarnate, displaying and vocalizing the most crul and evil traits that have been thrown at George W. Bush over the years. Within the context of the film he is essentially the devil, persuading the President to do things he perhaps ought not, and often for the wrong reasons. There is an insecurity in his dependence on Cheney, who is painted as an opportunist, taking advantage of the good natured sluggishness of his President, bringing him down. Why Bush listens to him and not Colin Powell is never really understood. Perhaps he falls for the same traps and tricks of wording he throws upon the public. Powell is reasoned and clear, but he does not use catch phrases or “evil” quite enough to capture W.’s attention.
On the other side of the spectrum, Laura Bush is presented in the best light. Enigmatically brought to life by Elizabeth Banks, she is afforded humanity beyond ridicule (somehow, you never laugh at her, the only character really exempt from mocking). Motivated by intelligence and love, it seems she becomes the mirror of good in George W. Bush. It’s through her eyes we’re able to see the good in the man, and she is the motivator for change. Considering, it’s also surprisingly grounded and impartial. She is not blind to his faults, but she seems him for the good he is capable of.
One scene that stands as the very best of the film, striking the perfect balance of all of Stone’s ideas, is a re-creation of the press conference where Bush has been asked about his mistakes. He seems confused and is unable to answer, you are laughing… but are simultaneously heartbroken. Grobin’s performance adds gravitas to the moment, and it’s as if you’re watching a naked man drowning. Humiliated and broken by the idea of his own insufficiencies. I don’t think he believed he was without fault, but it’s as if all the flashbacks of his mistakes are flashing before his mind, and he can’t just pick one. It’s not a matter of pride, but immense shame that he is an imperfect human being.
As “With God on your Side” begins to play, it becomes clear that God does not tae sides because the world is never black and white. W. and humanity itself exist as a shade of gret and without acknowledging that, only pain will follow. In a film as imperfect as the man it’s portraying, W. is still able to touch on the few golden moments, shedding light on one of the most (in)famous of American Presidents, maintaining that he is only human. Does this means we should forgive him? Forget all the lives that have been lost because of his blunders and the grand assumption that with God on your side everything will work out. Unfortunately, though plagued with the idea that his own father picked a favourite son, W.’s striving to be the preferred in the eyes of God is misguided. He is well meaning, but there is no real understanding of consequences or limits. Without this vision, it’s difficult to guide others down the right path.