Considering it’s release time during one of the most tense presidential election years in 2008,my own feelings upon seeing this film were as controversial as the subject matter. After all it’s very hard not to personalize one’s own experiences during a given time,and that was a vital consideration with me and this particular film. There was simply a lot of overexposure in the media at the time and also a mammoth Wall Street collapse that put George W Bush aggressively into the public eye as his second,and probably most tumultuous term as president,came to a close. I decided to weigh the issue-it was a biopic about someone who I was anxious to rid my thoughts of at the time with the fact it was an Oliver Stone film-a huge plus in my own case. When I actually took the time to look at the film,it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be at all.
The film exists on a duel timeline,weaving in and out of George W Bush’s (Josh Brolin) administration planning the agenda for Operation:Iraqi Freedom back into his past. As the debate about the middle east rages on,we view Bush’s days at Yale. Of his years of being bailed out of prison by his father George Sr,played with eerie similarity by James Cromwell and W’s failure as an oil rig worker and his descent into a life of alcoholism and womanizing. After failing in politics the first time,he builds his reputation by managing a major league baseball team and helping out with his father’s presidential campaign. Along with wife Laura he successfully runs for Governor at which time he contemplates the presidency for the first time. In the end,when he begins to understand the enormous complications of the war in the middle east he ends up facing regrets as to his choice to become president and not pursue his original love of professional sports.
Josh Brolin delivers a barnstorming performance as the younger Bush. He portrays the character as a very stereotypical American male image: brazen,careless and not always very aware of the consequences of his actions. This does an excellent job at pointing out the father/son schism between the younger and elder George Bush’s,wherein the son is strongly competitive for his fathers respect over the younger and more politically rewarded brother Jeb. Richard Dryfuss does an extremely accurate turn as Dick Chaney. He is portrayed as a very conniving character pulling at the naively righteous president,who became a virtual slave to his own religious convictions after years of struggling with addition problems. This is depicted with some of Stone’s typically wonderful humor as the president casually mispronounces Guantanamo as “guantanamera” during lunch at the White House.
There are many scenes portraying characters such as Colin Powell,Condi Rice and presidential adviser Karl Rove all debating the way the post 9/11 issues should be handled. Chaney and Rove paint the military model of the picture: take over as much as possible with no thought to the consequences where Powell and Rice both press at first for taking more time to look into the situation before making a move. Brolin’s Bush,admittedly not the best at conversation,buckles at making such hard choices. These are the kind of decisions that marred his own lack of focus in his youth. And,consequently as president. By humanizing a character who had by this time become the figure head of one of the most difficult presidential administrations in history,Oliver Stone was probably very successful at portraying George W. Bush as a man whose deeply seeded insecurity couldn’t back up some of his more boastful intentions.