Short Movie Review: W.

First things first: Oliver Stone’s movie about our *beloved* sitting president is not a political film, so if you go in expecting to see *Fahrenheit 911, Part 2*, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s not to say there aren’t political elements in it, but despite the fact that the main thrust of the story centers around Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq, this is at its heart a character sketch. And in that, Stone succeeds adroitly. It would have been easy to paint Bush as a caricature of himself, reinforcing the perception held by those who already dislike him. But in showing him as a three-dimensional person, Stone creates a portrait of a fairly charismatic guy—who actually *might* have been smart at one point, if it weren’t for all the drugs and alcohol—who ends up in way over his head, all because he wants to prove himself to his father.

Josh Brolin deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of George—he inhabits the role with the perfect blend of folksy charm and cluelessness, tempered with occasional flashes of frustrated insight that he just *doesn’t know what’s going on*: “Why wasn’t I told?” he yells at his advisors late in the movie, as they argue about who’s in charge of searching for WMDs in Iraq after the invasion. Also worth commending are Richard Dreyfuss’s Dick Cheney, James Cromwell’s George H.W. Bush, and Toby Jones’s Karl Rove, all of whom give excellent performances—though make no mistake, it’s Brolin’s film.

There are a couple of missteps: both Geoffrey Wright, who is a tremendous actor, and Thandie Newton, as Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice respectively, spend a little too much time concerned with *sounding* like the people they’re portraying, which becomes distracting. Newton gets a bit shorted on screen time, but Wright has a couple meaty scenes as the lone man of reason in an administration tilting to go to war (including a particular eerie flashback to Gulf War I, where he and Cheney agree that not going to Baghdad is a good idea). Likewise, Elizabeth Banks’s Laura Bush who doesn’t show up until later on in the movie, and seems to be rather ancillary at best.

You do, as one reviewer wrote, come out feeling a bit sorry for Georgie, but such pity doesn’t make Bush any less culpable for his involvement. He’s a man who’s just smart enough to know that he’s *not* smart enough, and that makes him complicit in all the things that his regime does. Worst of all is the fact that the movie deals exclusively with Bush’s first term, which leaves us hanging with the most frustrating question of all: how the hell did he get *re*-elected?