Maybe it's the fact this one was done with such a quick turnaround or maybe it's because Stone's attempting to walk a fine line and not totally alienate one political group or the other. Whatever the cause, W is far below the quality of either JFK or Nixon. W is neither the hard-hitting insightful piece most believed Stone was crafting nor is it 'the throw Bush under the train' critical analysis others predicted. Instead it's a jumbled story with some actors playing it straight by the book while others have taken the parody route. More boring than informing, W doesn't live up to the hype and isn't one of Stone's better efforts.
The meat of the film, the only time when it's actually a captivating drama and not just one that hints at things happening, is when W is surrounded by his advisors. Then the gigantic elephant in the middle of the room, the one you know Stone's aching to shine the light on, is actually exposed for all to see. W's re-creation of the meetings held prior to America's invasion of Iraq, the President's unsuccessful phone calls to some world leaders who didn't see things his way, his homey meeting with England's Tony Blair, and the meetings held after America and its allies knocked Saddam Hussein out of power provide the juice that makes W flow. When the focus is off those events, W loses its momentum and its way.
James Cromwell as George Herbert Walker Bush and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush are the standouts in a sea of familiar faces in supporting roles. Toby Jones does a great job digging into Karl Rove, Scott Glenn makes for a convincing Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey Wright is terrific as Colin Powell, and Richard Dreyfuss looks and acts just like VP Dick Cheney. The only one who just doesn't work in their role is Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. I normally look forward to seeing Newton in films, but wow, there's something so off about her take on Rice that it's not only distracting but also kind of creepy. W's Rice is a hobbit-ish, squeaky-voiced sycophant who sticks out like a sore thumb. Why did Stone prompt Newton, the only woman other than the wives in the entire film, to go this direction with Rice? There's just no logic behind his decision.
If there's one reason to see W it's for Brolin's performance. It's not because of what the film may teach you. If you've followed Bush's rise to power there's really nothing new here to see. And W isn't particularly well directed or written (there's a scene with some rich woman stepping on a corn cob that I still have no idea the significance of). W does let audiences see some pretty ugly warts but it doesn't go anywhere. It's a flat production that evokes no emotional or intellectual response. Oliver Stone pushed to get this out in front of audiences quickly and in doing so he seems to have lost sight of the big picture.
W was directed by Oliver Stone and is rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images.
Theatrical Release Date: October 17, 2008