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Josh Brolin in Oliver Stone's W

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with director Oliver Stone; Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Presidency; No Stranger to Controversy: Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush; Deleted Scenes With Commentary by Director Oliver Stone.

OLIVER Stone’s W. was always going to have a difficult time striking the right balance between probing exposition and biting commentary. That it pulls it off so successfully is a tribute to just how great the director can be.

No stranger to political biopics (witness Nixon, JFK or even Comandante) Stone gets the mix of drama and humour just right, presenting a balanced portrait of George W Bush that, in many ways, allows its subject’s own actions to do the talking and mis-pronouncing!

There are those who will argue that the film hasn’t gone far enough, or has even arrived too late, but far from being the Bush-bashing piece of cinema it could have become, W. attempts to understand the man as much as point its finger at his failings.

It does so by inter-cutting the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with key moments from his younger years – from his university bust-ups and oil field drop-out through to his alcoholism and eventual religious awakening, which took him into politics. It also functions as a father-son story, as W. attempts to win the respect of his ‘pappy’ and emerge from his shadow.

That said, Stone’s film is arguably at its most engrossing and potent when dealing with the politics leading to the invasion of Iraq, which allows the rest of his heavyweight cast (including Richard Dreyfuss, Jeffrey Wright and Scott Glenn) to weigh in with some typically showy deliberations.

It’s then that the true ineptitude of Bush’s administration is revealed, thereby giving rise to the film’s slightly laboured attempts to examine its consequences once the mistakes have come to light.

But just in case you suspect the director has gone a little too sympathetic, there’s plenty of well-aimed jokes at Bush’s expense – most of which stem from W.‘s own actions (such as choking on a pretzel or making decisions on the loo or stuffing his face with food).

In portraying him, Josh Brolin excels, hitting a near-perfect balance of anger, frustration, comedy and (dare we say) intelligence. Far from creating the pantomime caricature that so many news flashes have hinted at, Brolin ensures that W. has plenty of layers – and while we never quite sympathise, we can understand how he came to be the man he is, whilst marvelling at just how America came to vote for him (twice!).

Arriving just as US voters go back to the polls, it provides a sobering reminder of what happens when a nation takes its eye off the ball and falls for easygoing rhetoric. If anything, Stone’s biggest success is that W. will certainly make you think.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: March 16, 2009