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Thursday, October 16, 2008

W. Review

Biopics are very difficult movies to get right. People are naturally complicated, and trying to cram their lives, their entire souls into 2 or 3 hours tends to either oversimplify who they are or get overly episodic. W., however, takes the approach of choosing the one defining moment of its subject and showing what shaped his personality and how past events may have influenced his decisions. It's the sort of structure that would have made THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST an interesting movie.

The story is centered around the writing of the 2003 State of the Union address that coined the term "axis of evil" and the leadup to the war in Iraq. Meetings with Cabinet members are interwoven with flashbacks to Bush's days as an aimless alcoholic and eventual conversion to Born-Again Christianity. The central thesis of the movie seems to be that daddy issues were the main motivation for the war. But you also get the sense that he's got a real bad case of ennui. He's impulsive, and when he gets what he wants, he doesn't seem to do much with it. How many vacation days did he take as President? When he loses, he gets pissed off, but it comes off more as an entitlement issue than anything else. I guess having a rich daddy that gives you everything doesn't provide one with real motivation to set high goals for oneself. I've seen that in a friend or two. The expectations are so high that failure is a foregone conclusion. And if failure is a foregone conclusion, you might as well just get drunk as hell. When he does set his sights on the presidency, it's a sign from God. He deserves it for being a repentant alcoholic, I guess. That's not to say he doesn't care about his country because he does. He's portrayed as honestly believing that a war with Iraq will help the US, mainly because of the domino effect, which you think Vietnam would have disproved. But again, his laziness gets in the way of his decision making. He's not portrayed as a very detail-oriented guy. He trusts his subordinates to take care of things for him rather than seeing things through. Too bad, they're all incompetent morons manipulating him for their own ends. Do you feel bad for him? More than you would think. He's not abusive or unfaithful towards his wife. He's not shown to be particularly hateful or dastardly. He's really just an overly privileged D student.

Given the absurdities we've all had to witness the last 8 years and this portrayal of Bush, you'd think this would lean more towards a satirical or comical tone. In fact, this would make a great absurd satire. You make him the sympathetic character, and you satirize how everyone around him, including the American public, was either too arrogant or gutless to tell him, "No." The spoiled rich kid gone awry. Instead, it tends to straddle the fence a little too much in terms of tone. The Cabinet members come off as surreal cariactures, while the family members are far less reliant on hair and make up and voices and come off as real people. Then again, maybe that's just reflective of the reality of the situation. That's what makes the movie so fascinating. There aren't any real surprises in the portrayals of the characters except for H.W., whom I picture to be like his portrayal on THE SIMPSONS. You already know the events. It's just very surreal to watch the re-enactments of these historic moments. The movie lacks polish for sure. But damn if I wasn't riveted the entire time.

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