Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take Away the "H" in H.W. and What Have You Got?

I've been somewhat under the weather the past few days, but I did manage to drag myself to the theater yesterday to see Oliver Stone's W. Here's my review: don't bother seeing it. I learned absolutely nothing new about the man's character or biography, nothing new about how and why we entered Iraq. I ultimately left the theater wondering what genre of movie Stone thought he was making - it wasn't really a biopic, it wasn't a comedy, it wasn't satire - and what the point of the whole exercise might have been.

The film's themes were as follows:

W. spent his whole life trying to please his father. Beyond this one originary hurt and motivation, the man is an empty shell.

Condi Rice is a sycophant.

Rummy is an egomaniacal pedant.

Colin Powell was emasculated. And he was right.

Laura Bush likes books.

If you are a critic of the war, and if you've read the paper or watched the news for any part of the past seven years, none of this is new. Why spend the time and money to dramatize what we already know? If Stone was trying to invent a new cinematic genre, the filmed equivalent of naturalism or New Journalism, it just didn't translate. An American Tragedy, In Cold Blood, The Right Stuff, and other literary triumphs of the real worked because the authors were able to tell us more than we already knew about the story. By turning real people into characters Dreiser et al. were able to provide us access to feeling and motivation, to provide psychological as well as cultural context. W gives us caricature rather than character, and our only context is snippets from the nightly news.

The film's main dramatic conflict, and by extension the driving force of W's story, is between father and son, between the patrician and the party boy, the Episcopalian and the evangelical, the rational and the emotional. I have no doubt that the main reason W wanted to enter politics was to show that he was just as "good" as Jeb, to best his brother for his father's approval. That story would have made for excellent drama, but in this instance the conflict is drilled into us by exposition without nuance in the first hour, and the second hour is nothing more than a recapping of the first two years of our misadventure in Iraq. Yes, Iraq ties into the father/son dynamic, but because the primal war is completely dramatically subsumed by the Iraq war I ended up feeling that I'd watched half of a biopic and half of a History Channel documentary featuring bad re-enactments.

Perhaps Stone's frustration and contempt is ultimately reserved not for the first Bush administration but for the audience. We, after all, elected the guy and we, after all, are the ones who will suffer both the consequences and this movie. In the meantime, if you want to see an excellent Oliver Stone movie about an American president, rent the director's cut of Nixon.

3 comments:

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

Was there any "plots" where it was coke dealers who propped W in office? Didn't he claim the drug lords were behind the death of JFK?

Stones best was "Platoon".

Also to think it has been 9 years since he was busted at a airport for possession of hash.

Not corned beef either.

tunsie said...

I keep in sight,close sight, economics not politics,which is transient bullshit,i think only registered voters can voice thier support or OPINION and if u r in a bar u should be shot 4 even considering speaking of politics,what do u need beer muscles.stop PEOPLE stop.it really is not going anywhere.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

Tunsie sounds like a McCain "supporter" came in and yelled at you all for not being misinformed.