What W. illustrates more than anything else is that Oliver Stone is a born filmmaker. With this effort, Stone exhibits the maturity of an artist who is more concerned with telling a compelling story than promoting a selfish agenda. This is not a liberal movie that vehemently lashes out at George W. Bush, but rather a thoughtful assessment of a decent but ordinary man who was promoted to a position of power that he lacked the intellect to perform competently.
Stone chooses an interesting structure in telling Bush’s story by avoiding the main events in his life and instead choosing to narrowly look at the things that shaped and established both his personality and outlook on the world. Most directors would have plodded along with the conventional configuration of most biopics by focusing exclusively on the events that ascended him to power, which would have been a boring outlook on a convoluted life. Through Stone’s intriguing storytelling technique, Bush is compassionately portrayed as a man simply trying to find his way in the world without ever being condescending of his life perspective.
The film also is constricted in its view of Bush’s presidency in that it is completely centered on the Iraq War, possibly because this was the only way W. defined the success or failure of his time in office. This creates a plausible explanation on why our federal government was so thoroughly unprepared for the tragedy of Katrina and the downfall of the financial markets.
By showing great empathy for Bush, Stone astonishes the audience by a carefully exploring this man’s intentions rather than his actions, reminding many viewers of his riveting 1995 film Nixon, which also exceeded expectations by its surprising depiction. Nixon was supposed to be a scathing criticism of a shamed former president, but instead investigated what made this man so paranoid and insecure as to be involved in a scandal as fundamentally wrong as Watergate. Similarly, W. was expected to be a comedy of errors meant to criticize every flaw in Bush’s behavior and term, but rather is a careful and continuously interesting examination of a seemingly uncomplicated man. It would have been especially easy to attack Bush with the current popularity ratings, but it would not have been nearly as compelling.
W. is supremely elevated by the performance of Josh Brolin, who does not imitate Bush but rather embodies him. Brolin completely immerses himself not only physically but also psychologically and emotionally in the tale of a regular man who became the most powerful person in the world. Brolin is not a caricature or comedic device used to tease the president, but rather a man whose sole goal is to accomplish more than his brother and father.
The best scene in the film is when Bush is asked about mistakes in his presidency and cannot come up with a response because of his belief that God has guided him through all of his decisions. Since God is infallible, he must not have done anything wrong. The problem with this simple line of thinking is that God also gave us intelligence and information to make correct decisions.
Another scene that garners great amount of sympathy for Bush is when he visits the wounded soldiers who he cares deeply about but does not see them as casualties of his failed policies and unbridled arrogance. It is not that he does not care, it is just that he cannot comprehend that his decision to begin an unwarranted war would create such bodily destruction and pervasive heartache. In this aspect and others, W. did an excellent service in granting me more insight into Bush than ever thought possible.