Oliver Stone will release his biopic of George W. Bush on Oct. 17. Prediction: Almost no one will want to see it.
Starring Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") as the president, the simply titled "W" carries the tagline, "Anyone can grow up to be president." It features a cast of characters needing only one name: Karl, Condi, Barbara, Dick, Laura, Sr.
Those who've seen the film are underwhelmed. Patrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times writes that the movie "feels flat and strangely passionless." He goes on to say bluntly, "This film is a mess."
Variety critic Toddy McCarthy says "W" feels "like a rough draft of a film it might behoove him (Stone) to remake in 10 or 15 years." McCarthy also characterizes Stone's take as "a relatively even-handed, restrained treatment of recent politics."
Many people fear the worst when they imagine Oliver Stone making a movie about George W. Bush. Stone is of course the same filmmaker who has taken on other presidencies; he made "JFK" in 1991 and "Nixon" in 1995. The former wasn't so much about John F. Kennedy as it was about his assassination. "Nixon," on the other hand, was squarely about the 37th president and his foibles, even as many credited Stone with humanizing the man.
"W," according to the synopsis at the film's site, "takes viewers through Bush's eventful life—his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush's decision to invade Iraq." So "W" is all about Bush.
But this is 2008, not 2004, when Michael Moore's Bush-targeting "Fahrenheit 9/11" burned up theater screens, earning well north of $100 million and still ranking as the highest-grossing "documentary" ever. Now, no one is interested in watching a Bush biopic—even if or especially if it's from Oliver Stone.
Lionsgate, which is distributing "W" (and, incidentally, released "Fahrenheit 9/11"), obviously hopes there's still coin to be made from the current White House.
"Because we are in a politically charged season, I think people will view 'W' as a chance to vote with their box office dollars three weeks before they vote at the actual ballot box," Lionsgate president of theatrical films Tom Ortenberg told Variety. "I don't think that political films shape public opinion, but I do think they often reflect public opinion. They become a mirror."
This is wishful thinking on Ortenberg's part. Yes, films can reflect public opinion, but it would be a mistake to suggest that because Americans are concerned about the economy that they'll be interested in "W."
"Whether or not Oliver Stone's fictionalized pic plays to the masses, it exemplifies the recent trend of polarizing movies that are bubbling to the surface as the nation gets ready to elect a new president amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," wrote Pamela McClintock and Tatiana Siegel in a Variety story. "If "W" is going to work, it'll have to perform well in prospective Obama states." It won't.
"Stone may still be obsessed with his evil twin," says Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, "but the rest of us have moved on." Goldstein sees the "evil twin" theme as appropriately humorous given that both Bush and Stone were born in 1946, both went to Yale, both rebelled, both wandered before finding their niches.
So Stone does seem in a unique position to comment on Bush. But oddly, the most insightful commentary Stone might give us in 2008 he dished up more than 20 years ago—in "Wall Street," which starred Michael Douglas as Gordon "Greed Is Good" Gekko.
"Wall Street" was scripted by Stanley Weiser, who collaborated with Stone again for "W." Larry King asked Stone, appearing on "Larry King Live" Oct. 7, if "Wall Street" was prophetic. Stone simply called it accurate.
"Greed was considered good," said Stone, adding, "I think it got way out of hand. …I'm shocked. I thought it was going to end in the 1990s, but it kept going bigger and bigger." "Gekko is small fry compared to what Goldman Sachs and these people did," said Stone.
See—isn't Gordon Gekko more interesting than George Bush right now?
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor for EthicsDaily.com