Providing an accurate physical rendering of a real person in a biopic is especially important when that person, like George W. Bush, is not only still alive but still working. But with the Bush administration the expectation is heightened even more, since his is arguably the most well-known cabinet in American history. Aside from a few miscasts, just about every actor in Oliver Stone's “W.” lives up to Josh Brolin's ample and pointed take on Bush, humorously replete with all his physical tics, verbal slapstick and obsessions — jogging turns out to have holy implications. But at heart Brolin's Bush is an ignoramus, a point of view that will jibe with the people who think that Bush is, in fact, an ignoramus, but one that ignores Dubya's other side.
The problem with “W.” is most notable when Brolin's Bush famously arrives on the flight deck after the first strike in the Iraq war to declare “mission accomplished.” Somehow, Stone misses the hubris in acts like that, the swagger, that supreme confidence that maddens Bush's detractors and endears his fans, while epitomizing his administration. Bush and the rest are portrayed as inept, slightly ideological and brash, but the focus is always Bush as, in essence, something akin to a fourth Stooge. His face says more than that whenever he peers into our living rooms, however, offering his pronouncements with an undeniable air of imperiousness that some revere as cockiness and others deride as a smirk. Idiot or not, the I.Q. has an outrageous ego. “W.” doesn't pick up on it.
What's left is political satire that is frequently funny but sometimes dull, especially whenever Stone returns to the younger days, jumping back and forth from the Iraq war to college, marriage, baseball and the like, all wrapped in an inferiority complex inflicted on Bush by his disappointed father, played by James Cromwell. There's a smidge of sympathy in the caricature, which has been admired by the mainstream press with words like “measured.” That's damning with faint praise, however unintentional.
“W.” is an entertaining failure, looking for meaning in Bush's early years and finding none, then mis-underestimating — to use a Bush-ism — the president himself. The Bush swagger is the most memorable, remarkable and persistent thing about these last eight years: the mystery. How can a group of people who have been proven so wrong so many times have the gumption to smirk? How can it not be in this movie? Maybe there's an answer in the director's cut. (PG-13) 131 min. S