Thursday, October 23, 2008

W Review

Overall Grade: C-

W is film made by folks on the left side of the political spectrum that really only plays to...well...those on the left side of the political spectrum. It reminds me of those comedy movies you make with your friends when you’re young; broadly cynical about its subject matter and full of inside jokes. When you watch it with your parents, only you and your friends are giggling and slapping fives, cause only you get it. The only difference with Stone’s W is that Stone has millions of dollars to work with and W is not just playing in his parent’s living room.

I went into W with about as open a mind as I could muster. I honestly felt like Stone had a chance to give us some insights into what seems to be the most hated man in the world right now. If you’ve been alive and breathing the last 8 years, then you’ve no doubt become versed in all of the criticisms and arguments against George W. from both sides of the aisle (although primarily from the left side), and this was Stone’s chance to allow us to see behind the scenes. What makes this man tick? How has he accomplished what he has accomplished? I regret to report that W has nothing new or noteworthy to add to the discussion of one of the most important figures in history.

Stone delivers the leftist view of Bush; his life, his values, and his administration. W is an over simplified, caricatured view of Bush and the last 8 years of his administration. Except as a small catalogue of Bush moments seen through a liberal prism, I don’t really understand what true insights into the man or his administration that this film presents us with. Stone had ample time to flesh out a more detailed vision of the strengths and weaknesses of Bush, as well as some perspective on his failures and achievements, but only managed a very simplified and unsatisfactory argument. Let me summarize Stone’s insight into Bush for you… (Lets see how many worn out attacks on Bush are in this summary)
George W. Bush is basically a good old country boy (#1) with very low intelligence (#2), small ambition (#3), and given to drunkenness (#4). The only reason he got into politics is because he failed at every other endeavor in his lifetime (#5) (mostly because he couldn’t take more breaks or drink on the job) and has a child-like “Daddy” complex where he must prove to his father his worth (#6). The governorship and white house were only won because he was able to memorize what Karl Rove told him (#7). His religious views are fairly sincere, but really are misguided (#8) and they lead him to do foolhardy things (#9). This is the great insight the film has to offer. There is only one problem; it doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining the reality of George W. and the last 8 years.

George W. won the governorship of Texas twice, and it was against a very popular incumbent. He won the Republican Presidential Primary in 2000, as well as winning two elections in 2000 (against the VP of a popular president) and 2004 (garnering more votes in 2004 than in 2000). For better or worse, he was able to pass landmark education, tax, Medicare, and homeland security legislation, through a very divided and contentious Congress. For better or worse, he was able to get authorization (which the resolution really was for) from the Congress for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as continue to gain funding for them. These are not bumbling achievements, and the George W. that Stone portrays is not capable of what I just mentioned when you view him in the extremely negative and caricatured light that Stone does.
None of Stone’s answers are sufficient to explain the reality; not the fact that Bush Sr. was President before him, not the fact that George W. was just able to memorize better answers from Rove, and not the fact that George had a certain southern charm with people. Stone is simply incapable of truly trying to understand how this man could’ve accomplished these feats outside of his dogmatic presuppositions that Bush is a deluded bumbling moron with a bit of charm, that so happened to be blessed with the Bush name, and the politics of Karl Rove.

Stone’s inability to produce a fully rounded person extends to the members of his administration as well, as they all seen as nothing but caricatures. Condi Rice probably gets the shortest end of the stick as she really comes off as a Bush lap dog with ZERO ability to think on her own (I was half expecting her to just say “Yes Massa!” at any time). Dick Cheney is “nothing but” an in the dark schemer looking for American Empire. Rumsfield is a buffoon who is convinced everything could be done on the cheap. Powell is seen as the only levelheaded character in the administration that is in opposition with almost every turn the administration takes. The problem is that it’s a one-sided view of Powell as well; it doesn’t explain why he was willing to serve Bush (not to mention Reagan and Bush Sr.), why he made the vehement case against Iraq in the UN, as well as a number of other issues Powell side with the administration with. In fact, one could almost mistake Powell for Obama, the way that he was portrayed. The caricatures are unfortunate because the film, despite all the flaws above, is still interesting and engaging. The camerawork is great, and although I disagreed with the tone the music set, it was expertly weaved into particular scenes to make the point that Stone is arguing.

In the end, the film is little more than a film that speaks to the choir (much like An American Carol), and misses out on providing anything of substance for those who don’t like characters skewed to one dimension. There is not a single thing W does that hasn’t been parroted by the left for the last 8 years, and its Stone’s inability to conceive of Bush outside that view that undermines the entire movie. Sitting in the theatre, I half expected Stone’s parents to walk in the room with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of water. They’d sit down and smile because it was their son’s film, even though the film’s reality only really exists in the mind of Stone and his friends.


micahmcmillan said...

Kyle, I haven't seen W., but I understand the caricature. It's popular to criticize the President right now, on issues from Iraq and national security, to the economy. There are commonly accepted views that George W. Bush is an incompetent, and that he is in fact a joke. Actually, the advertising for this film has been really odd, because based on the trailers, I thought it was going to be a comedy, similar to the TV show with the same name. But since the movie is supposed to be a serious look at G.W., I'm just confused. It sounds like I'm not the only one, given the number of over-simplified portrayals you describe Stone using in the film.

It's really disheartening to hear that a person as important, controversial, and impacting on our time as George W. is given such light treatment. I'm not saying I agree 100% with the actions of his administration, but there is a time to be charitable when discussing opposing points of view. I think there are a lot of really hard decisions any President has to make, some of which are going to be unpopular with Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, independents or patriots... But that doesn't mean the President is a buffoon, or that there aren't good reasons for his actions.

In the study of law there's an expression--"reasonable minds can disagree". This is how I think we ought to look at most points of view within issues such as climate, war, poverty, economics, and politics. Folks who oversimplify and make glib statements like "war is not the answer" don't take serious the fact that sometimes there are very real moral dilemmas in the world; and, for example, sometimes war IS the answer, if it is the lesser of two evils, such as allowing the complete genocide of a nation of innocents.

My point is, sometimes the President makes tough decision, in real time, that may not be perfect, and there is almost always room for reasonable minds to disagree. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm very disappointed to see Oliver Stone fail to take seriously the fact that George W. Bush is more than a simple jackass caricature, and is a real person facing some of the most difficult decisions a President has had to make in the past twenty odd years. And even if the actions of the President are not those Stone would have chosen, there is still some logic to buttress Bush's choices, and reason for Stone to be charitable to the opposition, to be intellectually honest enough to admit that sometimes reasonable minds can reach different conclusions.

Julie said...

I whole-heartedly agree with Micah. I consider myself a moderate-liberal and by no means am I a huge fan of President Bush but I was insulted by how mean-spirited the attacks on him were. The movie had an opportunity to present the other side, the other logical minds that disagree with President Bush.

Oliver Stone had a great opportunity to show us what he believed should have happened. He could have pointed out where President Bush went wrong. He could have offered commentary on the 2000 election, the decision to go into Iraq, September 11. We don't get any of that. We get one-sided caricatures of President Bush and the people surrounding him. We get a two minute scene of the President choking on a pretzel. We don't get intellectual criticisms, we get cheap shots such as President Bush talking with food coming out of his mouth.

I went into W. hoping to see good commentary on disagreements with President Bush. Instead I get a movie much like American Carol in the sense of they went for the cheap, mean-spirited insults instead of legitimate criticisms.