Tuesday, October 21, 2008

W., we hardly knew ye


The very title of Oliver Stone's film suggests the central question hovering behind the entire project: will this film mount a sharp critique of Bush's disastrous presidency, or will it end up as an object basically indistinguishable from the black-and-white bumper stickers we've seen plastered to Republican-owned SUVs over the last eight years, bearing the same insignia? It's definitely not the former, and about as substantive as the latter. Stone's complete lack of a sharpened perspective (cinematic, political, or otherwise) from which to judge Bush turns nearly every image and performance in this film to mush. Only a few sharp moments and images emerge (in one sequence, the heads of Rumsfield and military officers hover on monitors in the White House war room, suggesting a level of Max Headroom trippiness that Stone sadly never channels into a larger commentary on the events depicted). Brolin's performance and the screenplay suggest that Bush was a party boy who eventually developed a deep desire to please his father, and achieved this through a presidency in which he became essentially the instrument of devious trolls (see Richard Dreyfus as Cheney and Toby Jones as Rove). The angry liberal in me accepts the emotion behind this; the analytical liberal in me is disappointed that is all Stone - never, admittedly, the most sophisticated filmmaker on the face of the planet - could come up with. Stone boils Bush's career down into a single dumb metaphor which constitutes the film's final image, in which we see Bush, dressed as GM of the Texas Rangers, attempt and fail to catch a baseball while standing in the outfield of a stadium. If Stone is suggesting that Bush just lost the ball in the lights this, in turn, also suggests he was standing in the right place to begin with, which is a dangerous sentiment through which to view the last eight years. As historian, stylist, and dramatist Stone falls flat this time around.