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Tuesday, September 27, 2016
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Throughout the whole film, audiences will be asking themselves how George W Bush, with his background and personality actually became president of the United States and was re-elected in 2004 only to end his presidency with his ratings falling to extremely low levels. This film was released the week that Barack Obama was elected as his successor.

For those not particularly interested in Bush or American politics, the film is still continually absorbing as a study of a rather irresponsible and spoilt wealthy young man who cannot hold down a job, is looked down on by his successful father in favour of his younger brother but who is supported by a loving wife, has a born again Christian experience, gives up the drink and becomes ambitious for a variety of motives, including a defiance of his father as well as an attempt to honour his father's memory.

Oliver Stone has explored the American experience in Vietnam and its aftermath in his trilogy, Platoon, Born on the 4th July and Heaven and Earth. He enjoyed fomenting conspiracy theories in his JFK, exploring the personal flaws of Nixon and now takes on both Bushes ( with only a cursory mention of Clinton by Barbara Bush who felt that the Clintons were beneath the Bush family). Richard Dreyfuss, who portrays Vice President Dick Cheney as a reptilian, arrogant eminence grise, said that this film is too empathetic towards George W. Bush. This may be only partly true. There is a certain sympathy for the man and his personal struggles, especially with his father, but the film leaves little doubt that Bush's motivation for invading Iraq was questionable, gung-ho American Manifest Destiny vision, pushing on to Baghdad which he had urged his reluctant father to do, Cheney's desire for empire and oil control in the Middle East with no pulling out of Iraq, a simplistic belief that democracy would instantly flourish in Iraq ­ let along the false information about weapons of mass destruction.

The core of the film takes place in 2002-2003, the lead up to the war, the invasion, the premature declaration of mission accomplished and the revelations of the inept ambitions of his advisers. While The End comes up on the screen, it was not and still is not the end. Bush's unfinished business is to be handed on to this successor.

There is a succession of flashbacks to Bush's past: his boozy initiation at Yale and the revealing of his strong memory, his job on an oilfield and his throwing in the towel, his father's reprimands and his getting him out of trouble with a pregnant girlfriend. We see his meeting Laura, her influence on him, his running for congress and losing, his drinking and his collapse on one of his regular three mile runs with a subsequent seeking out of a religious adviser and his born again conversion and giving up alcohol. His father invited him to work on his 1988 presidential campaign and he advised his father during the Gulf War. His parents did not approve of his running for governor of Texas ­ we see him campaigning with the advice of Laura on education despite his inept word choice and faulty grammar. Ironically, he won while his brother, Jeb, lost in Florida (though was elected next time round).

The film takes a lot for granted: the courtship and wedding of W and Laura, most of Bush Sr's presidency, the Florida recount in 2000, even any visuals of 9/11.

George Bush Sr is a strong character who knows politics, can pull strings but who weeps when he finds that his war has not persuaded the American public to re-elect him.

Stanley Weiser (writer of Stone's Wall Street) had a mammoth task in writing a screenplay that assesses recent history before the events have come to their conclusion.

The cast is excellent with Josh Brolin capitalising on his successful performance in No Country for Old Men bringing the younger and the older W to life. There is an enormous pathos in the final scene as he realises that he has been misled and that the job was too much for him ­ and the question whether he realises this in real life or not. The cabinet personalities are generally well portrayed, especially by Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney and Bruce McGill as George Tenet of the CIA. Thandie Newton looks exactly like Condoleeza Rice. Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld is not given enough to say (and in real life he was no blushing violet) so that his role is not as clear or as powerful as it actually was. There are fascinating hints at how Karl Rove (Toby Jones) began to control Bush and his thinking and public answers. Ioann Gruyfudd's brief scene as Tony Blair does not adequately illustrate the role that the British Prime Minister played in 'legitimising' the invasion.

It will be interesting to watch W again in five years (and more) when there has been more time and opportunity to evaluate the Bush presidency.
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Tags: George W Bush


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