Tuesday, October 28, 2008


So I saw W., Oliver Stone's attempt to make some sort of sense of the mess that is both George W. Bush's presidency, and whatever passes for his inner life. Christopher Caldwell writes a far more cogent and insightful review than what I will be writing, more interesting for the simple reason that he cares about it more than I do.

I liked the movie. I don't want to give the impression that I am damning with faint praise, because there are some artistically worthy elements. Richard Dreyfus is utterly convincing as Dick Cheney - I would be surprised if he doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Josh Brolin is effective as The Man Himself. What comes across convincingly is just how completely normal George W. Bush is. He's really just an average guy born into a family that had little use for "normal." But that idea, which we all know so well by now, is devastating on the screen. Sarah Palin picked the wrong possible person to succeed if she wants to be elected as a regular American.

Try as he might to make a profound film, Oliver Stone has constricted himself by virtue of his subject matter. It's hard to mkae a great movie about such an average person. It is surely possible to make a great movie about these extraordinary times. But this is all about W., and there just ain't much there there. It's the same reason TV doesn't show minor league baseball of Division III football - mediocrity is boring.

The fact that the characters around Bush are more intersting doesn't help. There certainly would seem to be more than adequate material for a fascinating character study of Dick Cheney, but I'm not into horror movies. Colin Powell has some stories worth telling and worth listening to, but not right now.

The disjunction between historically well-known people and actors is always a bit jarring, and more so here. Jeffrey Wright is a solid Colin Powell, but the real man has enough capacity for eloquence - as evidenced by his endorsement of Obama - that any impersonation is almost invariably less interesting. Thandie Newton, an actress whose performances I have always enjoyed, has a bizarre staccato impersonation of Condoleezza Rice that just does not work. Say what you want about the woman's policies, she is a smooth talker. James Cromwell portrays George H. W. Bush as more capable of arrogant disdain and parental disapproval than I would have given him credit for. The lesson there seems to be that one reason George W. Bush kept trying so hard to win his father's respect is that he never really deserved it.

Technically, it's a solid work. The cinematography is very good, as is the editing. It floats back and forth between the present and Bush's past, not really explaining much, but showing us what few dimensions the man has.

Caldwell ends with a quote from Nietzsche: “Truth has the fewest defenders not when it is dangerous to speak the truth but when it is boring.” I am not bored with George W. Bush, I just don't care about him any more. The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy. I don't care that much about George Bush any more because he just doesn't matter. There isn't enough there there.

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