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The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder
by Vincent Bugliosi
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "W."

Director and biopic historian Oliver Stone offers up an outline of the events that led America into one of its darkest episodes and he does it with a select group of actor/imitators and a script by Stanley Weiser that credibly recreates the Bush early years and white house arguments and discussions that suggest how his decision-making went down. Intercutting the title character's current behavior as commander-in-chief with major biographical events, the picture is surely one that proves that here, the highest dreams are attainable if you've got the money, family prestige and the connections.

With care to express no overt judgement or political position, the movie consists of key moments in George Bush's (Josh Brolin) life, his slacker, free-wheeling Yale frat-boy years, boozing, finding real work (on an oil rig) not to his liking, meeting with dad's (James Cromwell) disapproval. But at every disappointment to dad, Bush the elder's version of taking his boy to the woodshed is to scold and then try something else for his boy to be a success at.

The next three events that prove to be turning points are his meeting and falling in love with Laura (beautiful Elizabeth Banks), finding religion in the form of born-again Christianity, and coming to the attention of political guru and king-maker, Karl Rove. Key to how these align into a successful run for the white house is a glad hand, good-ol'-boy personality that proved attractive on the state level first, then the national one.

Under Rove's tutelage, what he lacked in judgement, knowledge and experience could be obfuscated, surprising everyone including his parents. But, by this time he was no longer the slacker boy who couldn't hold a job or follow an ideal. This was the mature George W. who had found god, his adoring wife, sobriety and purpose.

The accuracy of the way his conduct is portrayed, and the specifity of the dialogue both before taking office and afterward, may be argued, but Stone and Weiser's version gives the impression of enough verisimilitude to take much of it as insightful and explanatory. One may assume a level of research and interviews of witnesses to back up the essential psychological profile.

The cast's level of success with their individual impersonations vary, starting at the top with Brolin's capture of his subject's arc of indecision to obdurate belief in the correctness of his position on everything. As well, he presents a convincing insight into the people skills the real man has brought to bear on an essentially lightweight intellectual capacity.

Banks affords Laura Bush a presentation noone could find fault with--most especially any woman who knew when she found her man and never needed to look back on the decision. Also a portrayal that is about as close to the skin of the real person as a film character is likely to get. But, then, it is probably the least complex of the characters in the framework of the story.

Thandie Newton's Condoleeza Rice is a stark attempt to capture the brittle intellect that has been so unquestioning at her boss's side for so long. It may be the most awkward of the interpretations but it's close enough to recall the real person.

Richard Dreyfuss is amusingly good at Dick Cheney; Toby Jones close enough for Rove; Scott Glenn not very close at Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffery Wright is a virtual throwaway for Colin Powell, James Cromwell stands tall as George P. Bush, Sr. and Ellen Burstyn dutiful as Barbara Bush. One has to keep in mind that they're just suggestions, anyway, and what feels like superficial stereotyping has a lot to do with the broadness of the contextual brush with which they're painted.

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The necessity to depict all these characters, which goes with the territory, leads to some flabbiness in the storytelling. The pic felt overlong at times, especially when the scenes from the past caught up to contemporary issues when discussions prevail and interest in the recreation wanes. In the larger sense this subject is compelling because of how the man at its center has affected and mystified so many; but moviemaking ideals pertain and when the action hits low speed the yawns take over. Stone wanted to tell it all, but a little more brevity would have expressed it better.

The big choice here was to complete this film while the reality behind the story is not only incomplete, but too incendiary before the '08 election to take chances with. Insights and witness testimonies, by necessity both political and commercial, have to be peeled back to a subtextual, unpartisan level of illumination. And, while "W." adds some detail and clears a mystery or two, it begs for a "W.-2, the sequel" at a later time when the flames of controversy have cooled and the treatment can be far bolder in revealing the psychology, the history and the effect on our country.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Josh Brolin is George W. Bush
Frat boy to commander-in-chief.

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