At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Lion’s Gate

4 out of 5 Stars

“W.” — Oliver Stone’s fascinating biopic about our current president — will make you sympathize with George W. Bush no matter what you believe. As scary as that may be to some on this campus, it makes for a spectacular film, with a sweeping lead performance by Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men”).

In depicting a history we’ve all lived through, Stone adds untold depth and nuance to a character we all think we know. Bush’s story, as told by the allegedly militant-liberal director, is actually the opposite of our general conception of this president. Here, he isn’t a privileged loser who has everything handed to him. Far from it: His is a classic American story with an all-important moral.

Early scenes of the film show a spoiled rich brat who gets into Yale as a legacy and does nothing but screw up. Following college, he can’t hold a job and becomes an alcoholic. After even his own parents have given up on him, Bush miraculously pulls himself up. He may have been a child of privilege, but when he ultimately gets to the highest office in the world, it isn’t because of his Yale and Harvard degrees or because of his father’s connections.

After blowing every opportunity his family name afforded him, Bush is a nobody. Thus, America’s penchant for rooting for the underdog demands that you cheer as he works his way to the top with sheer guts and an impressive obsession to learn from those around him. Stone allows a long moment for us to cheer for this once-broken man, but then comes the most crucial message of the film.

Bush may now be a hard worker and a sincere person, but he is wrong for the job. The beauty of his rise from failure to president is aptly shattered by interposed scenes that comment on the grave damage this good man’s presidency has done to our nation and the world. Ingeniously, Stone makes us all witness Bush’s failure by showing the danger of this country’s obsession with the “common man.”

Such a complex message requires a truly humanizing lead performance, and Brolin delivers. Playing a man who is so easy to caricaturize, Brolin performs with brilliant sincerity. He looks and sounds like Bush, but more than that, he presents the same quirks Bush is known for, this time exposing the very basic, mostly good intentions behind them.

The rest of the famous roles are also superbly emulated. For Laura Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, Stone uses one telling characteristic to make each character come alive.

Rove (Toby Jones, “Infamous”) is a creepy hanger-on who always has way too much information; Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss, “Jaws”) is a terrifying specter who only vaguely cloaks his maniacal intentions; and Laura Bush (played with marvelous regality by Elizabeth Banks, “Invincible”), has a benign, almost naïve goodness about her that is at once endearing and disturbing.

Perhaps Stone struggled over how to end a biopic about a man who isn’t only still alive, but actually still president. The final scene employs a metaphor: Bush, an avid baseball fan, is fantasizing about making a big catch in the outfield to win the game and to become the hero. He hears the ball being hit, he runs to the spot where he thinks it will land, he pounds his glove to prepare for the catch and, alas, there is no ball.

How fitting.

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