Excerpts from my review of "W." in The American Conservative:
Given the limitations of Oliver Stoneâ€™s biopic about George W. Bush (modest budget, rushed production, lack of memoirs by the officials who started the Iraq War, and Stoneâ€™s own fading powers), â€?W.â€? turns out better than expected.
Anchored by another charismatic performance by Josh Brolin (the hunter turned hunted protagonist of â€?No Country for Old Menâ€?), this tragicomedy of regression to the mean offers a plausible depiction of the Presidentâ€™s resentful yet admiring relationship with his imposing father, and the complicated ways that set the stage for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Brolin has emerged recently as such an enjoyable leading man to watch that he makes spending 129 minutes with George W. Bush fun.
The historical accuracy of Stoneâ€™s films has been improving since their nadir with the infuriating but stylistically dazzling â€?JFKâ€? in 1991. Unfortunately, as the older, wiser Stone has gotten more honest, his aesthetic bravura has dwindled. ... The great majority of the screenplay, though, strikes me as on solid ground, historically and psychologically. ...
It has not been a success with the critics, who are annoyed that it doesnâ€™t condemn conservatism as inherently evil. Indeed, Stoneâ€™s depiction of George H.W. Bush as an old-fashion prudent conservative is downright hagiographic. ...
Itâ€™s unfortunate that Freudâ€™s silly theories have discredited all psychological analyses based on nuclear family dynamics, because they can sometimes explain much about politicians. The ambitions of both Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, for example, were fired by political fathers who ignored their sons on the way up, then failed ignominiously.
George W. Bushâ€™s Poppy Problem was the opposite of Obamaâ€™s: his father was an all around pretty good guy. As Stone commented, â€?Forty years is a long time to wait when your father is better at sports, politics, oil, money, diplomacy, and even academics than you are.â€?