W. – the Movie

Watch this movie and you will never see George W. Bush in quite the same way again.

I could not help but go and see W. at the theater on the first day it came out. And I came away astonished. Oliver Stone did masterful work. Roger Ebert did a nice job reviewing it, better than I ever could, so here is the link. Let me focus on what I took away from the movie.

First, I took it with a grain of salt. This is the portrayal of the man George W. Bush by a film maker, based on books written by members of the Bush administration and others. So I am watching somebody else’s colored view. I have read books on Bush before, not biographies, but treatises like Woodward’s State of Denial, and I am now reading Gore’s Assault on Reason. This film just brings people to life, unlike a book can do, and that is valuable when you’re dealing with an attempt to characterize a man.

Bush is shown as a tortured loser in his youth and early years. Living in the shadow of his father, deeply plagued because he thinks his father prefers his younger brother Jeb over him, numbed by alcohol, the young Bush tries one thing after another in an attempt to find meaning and purpose.

He goes to Yale and spends his years there soaked in fraternity booze. He goes to Harvard Business School because his father pulls strings to get him in. He does a poor job on oil rigs. He buys a baseball team. I ask myself how he does all that and I must conclude that he is simply spending family money. It does not look like he needs to go to work to earn a living, like most of  us did when we were that age.

We see the characters around Bush that made him what he is: Dick Cheney and Carl Rove. Cheney is shown as the absolute shrewd puppetmaster who plays Bush and Rove like a fiddle, and neither knows it. Cheney knows exactly what he is doing. Rove, the master politician, is pulling all the strings to make things happen. “I’ll tell you what to say” he says to Bush. Bush repudiates him, but only to save face. It is clear that he relies on Rove to keep him in sound bites so he can make it through an interview or debate.

I wonder why guys like Carl Rove (and James Carville – who put Clinton into office) don’t run for office themselves. What makes men like these tick?

There is, of course, Condoleezza Rice, who is portrayed very negatively. If I were Rice, I’d be most unhappy about this movie. She looks plain stupid, a sycophant who unctuously follows the president around, repeating Rove’s one liners, throwing Bush morsels of trite commentary. I have always thought of Rice as a sharp and capable woman in her own right, somebody who would have been a much better candidate for running mate for McCain than Palin is, but after her portrayal here I need to do more research. Rice is probably, after Bush, the most unfavorably portrayed character here.

Colin Powell is shown as a thoughtful man of great competence and wisdom, who was overruled and sometimes ridiculed by the entire, power-hungry, self-centered, self-righteous gang in the White House. He knew he needed to be there, and of course he knew he needed to move with the team, and he knew how desperately wrong the direction was where they were marching. But beat the drum he had to. Powell, who would, in my estimation, have been a great president in his own right, had he just wanted the job, ruined his career by finishing it as one of Bushes minions. We all know that he eventually left the administration, and I am sure we will read his books in a few years. If Powell had only run in 2000 against Bush, Bush would never have been president. Powell would have. And this would be a different world today. Bush changed the world, and he made it a much darker place.

Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld are shown as power-mongers and manipulators, put into positions they should never have been in. They started an illegitimate war, foddered by Bush’s shallow convictions.

Cheney was played masterfully by Richard Dreyfuss. Only one word comes to mind to summarize him: Puppetmaster.

Then we see much of Bush Sr. We come away thinking he is a thoughtful and proud man who always wants to do the right thing, who is disturbed by the incompetence of his son, even though he eventually rises beyond his control and overshadows him.

We see Barbara Bush and Laura Bush and the roles they play with their husbands.

All of the Bushes, their legacy and their reputations, are tarnished by George W.’s eventual failures.

I was frightened by the fact that Bush seems to be driven by some divine right. The atheists around him pander to his requests for prayer after major decisions or meetings. This film makes it look like he does what he does because he thinks he is somehow performing God’s will. This too is something I didn’t know about Bush.

The song played when the credits scroll at the end of the movie is Bob Dylan’s With God on Our Side. What a perfect choice by Oliver Stone to finish this movie.

And now I must ask myself: How could this happen? How could our country elect this man, George W. Bush, a seemingly shallow, drunken, insecure and bible-thumping man to be our president, not once, but twice? He looks like a man who rose to the level of his incompetence long before he ran for president. Did the people not see this? Did the Republican Party not realize this? The party is now not better off than it was eight years ago. It will be decimated after November 4th. Bush not only tarnished his own family and legacy, he took down with him many brilliant people, a generation of fellow politicians and an entire country, not to mention thousands of people who died as a result of his actions, and tens of thousand of dead in Iraq, and hundreds of thousands suffering in Iraq. His approval rating is now below that of Nixon when he left office.

How could this happen? It was a tragedy.

A worse tragedy would be if we elected McCain now. McCain would be a much better man to be president, no doubt. McCain should have beat Bush in 2000 and we would have a better world now. But if McCain wins, there is a statistically significant chance that Palin would be president eventually, and that would be a bigger tragedy than even Bush. Heaven help us.

I would not want to be Bush (any Bush), Cheney, Rove, Rice, Rumsfeld and  Wolfowitz with a movie like this in the theaters. The price they pay for their notoriety!

So you cannot wait until this movie comes out in DVD, because you really should see it before you go and vote in this election.

Rating: ****

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