Putting the W in WMD.
First came RAIN MAN. Then FORREST GUMP. Now, in a long line of congenital idiots, comes W.
But wait, Bushies! Do not dismiss this movie as leftie revisionist conspiracy. Director Oliver Stone’s W. is a fair and balanced representation of America’s 43rd president, George Walker Bush. Insert joke: “which means it shows him as the imbecile he is.”
No, W. is too fair. Not because the movie portrays George W Bush (affectionately known as “W,” redneckingly pronounced, “Dubya”) as intelligent, lucid or principled – on the contrary, he’s portrayed as the enabled, amoral, irreconcilably ignorant rich brat he’s always been; it is “too fair” because it clobbers us with one small aspect of W’s psyche – his relationship with “Poppy” (father, George Herbert Walker Bush), the 41st president – instead of examining the adverse affects that W’s obsessing over his father’s approbation brought down on planet Earth.
Oliver Stone (writer/director of 1991’s JFK and 1995’s NIXON) seems to miss all potential target audiences: Bushies will hate W. for the irrational reason that anything remotely disparaging toward their sheltered idiot-child “should” be hated, and the other 75% of America will find no red meat to indict the doofus C-student they so stupidly elected twice.
Movie opens after 9/11, in the Oval Egg, with the Bush cabinet creating a vivid catchphrase for the group of countries ideologically opposed to America, settling on Axis of Evil, the president flippantly throwing Iran, Iraq and North Korea into the pot – even though none of those countries acted in concert against the U.S., unlike the WWII Axis countries.
This should reveal something to America: there IS no Axis of Evil; merely a concoction of a few dappled minds (including, but not limited to, the fear-swillers: David Frum, Michael Gerson, Dick Cheney, W) who portrayed merely religious contingents as whole countries.
The primary players in this Greek tragedy are introduced, with varying success: Josh Brolin is the eponymous W, channeling the spirit of doofus admirably (with the light at the right angle, the resemblance is scary); Bruce McGill makes a reasonable George Tenet (CIA); Toby Jones is a slimmer version of walking rectum, Karl Rove; Jeffrey Wright leans hard on his General Colin Powell; Richard Dreyfuss cannot possibly plumb the depths of the slime-pit Dick Cheney crawled from, but tries hard (it is common knowledge Cheney runs the Ku Bush Klan, but movie marginalizes his involvement); Dennis Boutsikaris is not frog-faced enough to play Wolfowitz; I always thought Barbara Bush was a 1920 storeroom mannequin in disrepair – apparently not, as Ellen Burstyn gives her voice here; Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld is ludicrous; Ioan Gruffudd brings the British accent (and a sensible sweater) for his Prime Minister Tony Blair; and Thandie Newton does Condoleeza Rice like a caricature audition for Saturday Night Live.
Movie follows three segments of W.’s life (a pre-pol in college in 1966, pre-pres, and post-9/11), skipping back and forth as often as W skipped out of day jobs; at one point, W simply walks off an oil-rig mid-shift – a directionless, privileged quitter, with not a shred of responsibility. Bush Snr (James Cromwell as Poppy) pulls strings to get W out of jail, land him summer jobs, slide him into Harvard, yet W keeps disappointing with his vacuous and impulsive irresponsibility. It would be the same traits he would bring to the stolen presidency in the dark winter of 2000, along with his “gut” decision-making (rather than informed leadership), to earn him the lowest favorability rating of any president in America’s history. Imagine how disappointed his father is NOW…
The performances are uneven – Brolin, Wright, Cromwell, Dreyfuss pulling the weight of all the others who seem miscast – but Stone’s direction is stellar. Written by Stanley Weiser, these characters exist in a vacuum; a disconnect between backstage and the world stage.
Richard Dreyfuss remarked on THE VIEW: “It leaves out how terrified people were of their own president.”
The film won’t have historical legs because the issues that defined the W presidency are given short shrift or glaringly omitted. Authorizing torture is mentioned once, over breakfast – there is no Abu Ghraib, no Guantanamo, no John Yoo; that scene (like other allusions and brief intimations), is more an inside wink to audiences who will nod their heads and say to themselves: “Ah! Look at the mess he got into with that one!” There is no contention over the 2000 or 2004 elections, no dirty Swift Boating campaign, no massage gaffes at the G8 Summit – we just don’t see these events.
As for the lie of WMD in Iraq (this is not contention any more – it’s in all the literature), Frank Rich, Vincent Bugliosi, Bob Woodward and countless others have researched and concluded that W knew he was lying when selling the “mushroom cloud” to America as justification to invade. Whereas this lie should be a defining moment in any George W. Bush character study (What kind of a man would do this?), we get the barest rationalization that W is going after Saddam to finish what his father started. “My dream is to see peace break out in the Middle East! …UN resolution or not – we’re going to war!” Again, the real reasons are not slammed up against the real outcomes of this ignoble, ignorant, unlawful decision.
W’s life seems free of consequences, when we all know that isn’t true, and – worse – the consequences affecting planet Earth are ignored.
Bob Woodward’s State of Denial: “…Bush had asked the two men [Rumsfeld and Bremer] point-blank who was in charge of finding the WMD… Bremer indicated it was Rumsfeld’s responsibility. Rumsfeld said Bremer was in charge. [Bush] wanted someone in charge… Since the CIA had insisted Iraq had WMD, the agency could go find the weapons. So finally, two and a half months into the war, the administration was going to give some focus to the hunt.”
Powell protests over America’s ideology going astray over a few terrorists, “We blew it before 9/11, because people weren’t doing their jobs right,” attacking Iraq is “not New World Order – that’s World Gone Mad.” (Powell’s character is prescient screenwriting from Weiser, as this movie was completed before the actual Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama in 2008). Cheney clarifies the admin’s position: It’s about energy resources. And – “there is NO exit strategy.”
As sinister as Cheney’s “no exit strategy” sounds, there is no mention of the chilling callousness of having no “infrastructure” strategy. Forget “empire-building” – what these meatheads called their grandiose intrusive blunder – even running water and electricity in war zones was out of the Bushies’ purview. Further, no mention is made of W running on the ticket of “no empire-building” then immediately using the excuse of 9/11 to go empire-building (which was in reality a euphemism for “energy-controlling”).
A movie about the world’s biggest meathead – with so little meat.
Not even an accurate biopic, W. is an insular, one-dimensional fairytale of a cowboy moron’s rise to power, from an alcoholic tail-chaser to the bumbling, born-again dumbest president of the United States. Like W, the movie talks a lot but says nothing.
Key events in W’s life are condensed, making the movie one big montage: W’s alcoholism, subsequent conversion to born again soberness, early political life; his wife (Elizabeth Banks – way too sexy to play W’s man-boy Laura); his decision not to be out-christianed or out-Texaned on the campaign trail; coached by Karl Rove…
And here we shake our heads in outrage again: when Rove coaches W, a picture is presented of a Rain Man cramming for an exam, not someone educating himself, studying documents and assessing intelligent solutions to national issues; we never see W reading – a salient point. Rove would coach W to counter attacks from the hostile press or public, not through knowledge, but memorization. Exactly like the 2008 Repub VP nominee, Sarah Palin. Sure, Dems and Repubs all work this way, but with this particular pol, his duplicity and ignorance became so transparently obvious through his public actions and responses. Still, Brolin never quite grasps W’s condescension. (The real W explains political strategy to the press as if speaking to five-year-olds because that’s how political processes are explained to HIM.)
Rove coins the public catchcry of W “being someone they’d like to have a beer with” – but didn’t W stop drinking long before he ran? Which made even that phrase just another lie…
W’s embarrassing and laughable malapropisms and dysfunctional grammar are slotted in offhandedly – not disparagingly – almost as comic relief. Movie shies away from WHY he is such an abysmal communicator – his low intelligence, hence, zero credentials to run a “nookuler” superpower. Grandest irony is that he married a librarian! (Holding stark, opposing political views to W, we can only presume Laura is a weak, unprincipled gold-digger for marrying him.)
Stone emulates Marty Scorcese in juxtaposing disturbing visuals over jovial soundtrack (Adventures of Robin Hood under W’s cavalier decision to run for politics, Yellow Rose of Texas under war scenes, The Battle Hymn of the Republic scoring the Mission Accomplished moment), yet this ain’t no laughing matter. When Rumsfeld says of Afghanistan “It’s not a war – it’s an exercise”; when W quotes St. Augustine to rationalize “Just War”; when W as Texas governor never pardoned anyone on Death Row, presiding over 152 executions (the highest number in modern history); when the Real World consequences of the Middle East conflict have displaced/ destroyed/ debilitated over 2 million people, it becomes too serious to satire, only proving what a soulless, murderous hypocrite this supposed “christian” is.
In the movie, W gives up pie as “sacrifice for the war” (we don’t see the 2004 public dinner where he tastelessly jokes about his inability to find WMD – bet the dead soldiers’ families were laffing their asses off); film doesn’t show him “giving up golf” because he “shouldn’t be enjoying himself while young men and women are dying” (then filmed on a golf course after making this statement); film doesn’t show W’s statement about bin Laden “dead or alive” (six months later: “I don’t know where he is… I just don’t spend that much time on him”)…
W is half a movie, like PASSION OF THE CHRIST or STAR WARS EPISODE III, where the film-makers took it for granted the world knew the story, so did not bother to develop it cogently. The movie poses questions and pretends no answers – when even a precocious cucumber like me, only mildly interested in politics, KNOWS the real-world answers. Mention is made of Carter installing solar panels on the Shite House roof (before “green” was an admirable fad), yet no talk of Reagan immediately ripping down the panels when he took office (That’s Our Republican Hypocrite!); W’s cabinet issues a media blackout on soldier caskets returning from war – but we don’t see press secretary Tony Snow lying “There is no media blackout”; W is told Saddam didn’t have WMD but pretended to – but the movie posits wrong reasons for Saddam’s pretense. (The real reason is simple: with a dangerous neighbor like Iran, Iraq didn’t want to publicly announce it was defenseless, so Saddam had to cooperate with the U.S., letting inspectors swarm his military facilities, while snickering over his shoulder to Iran as if he was duping the U.S. The U.S., as usual, too blunt-headed to discern this subtlety.)
The last question posed to W at a press conference, “What were your mistakes?” culls the Obligatory Hollywood Introspective Moment from Brolin, rather than the weak-chested, blank-eyed, weasel-sniveling backpedaling and stuttering that the real life W met that question with. Maybe Stone is trying to be ironic or subtle, because his film is LOADED with W’s mistakes, but because they are mentioned so fleetingly with no follow-through, the audience can’t see them as mistakes.
But that “mistake” scene highlights the film’s overall “mistake”: casting Josh Brolin. Y’see, Brolin is cool. Always will be. And he’s playing a guy who is just an intrinsic fuckin’ douchebag. And Brolin just can’t quite make it to that deep a level of douchebaggery… No one is that good an actor.
Movie ends abruptly during a dream sequence where W is waiting for a fly ball that is not coming down, and we see in Brolin’s eyes the most prominent unanswered question of the W era: “Where do we go from here?” Either that, or “What the hell am I doing here?” Or “How the hell did I get here?” Most likely, “I wonder if I’ll have time for a bike ride before breakfast tomorrow?”
With W’s lame duckidency limping to a shameful, disgraced end, we can only be thankful that the real Axis of Evil – George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove – will soon be disbanded.