Friday, November 21, 2008

The Dubya Years

Film review

by Andy Brooks

W: Director Oliver Stone, 129 mins, 2008, general release.

IN YEARS to come perhaps George W Bush will be recalled as the man who lost the Iraq War or the Republican president who nationalised the banks. Whether he will be remembered as a half-wit manoeuvred into the war for oil by corporate America or the man with a chip on his shoulder because his old money domineering father thought his younger brother Jeb was better than him remains to be seen.
But that’s the central thrust of Oliver Stone’s epic film about “Dubya’s” eight years which was timed for the November US presidential elections but scripted well before the sub-prime crisis plunged the United States and the rest of the world into the biggest slump since 1929.
It’s a star-spangled cast with Josh Brolin as Dubya, James Cromwell as President Bush the father, Elizabeth Banks as Dubya’s wife, Ellen Burstyn as his mother, Richard Dreyfuss as the sinister vice-president Dick Cheney and a brilliant portrayal by Toby Jones of Carl Rove, Bush’s deputy chief of staff.
Stone says he wanted to understand and not to hurt George W Bush in this biopic but his depiction of an arrogant and immensely vain politician beset with drink problems and an inferiority complex is plainly simplistic and hardly flattering. This isn’t a drama-documentary but a tragedy of sub-Shakespearean proportions laced with satirical references to Bush’s rise to power which sadly may not be readily understood by a British audience.
There are some brilliant scenes in the film like Cheney’s frank call to invade Iraq to build a new American “empire” based on the total control of the world’s oil supplies. But the running metaphor of this film is Bush’s lust for glory on the baseball field, a game he never apparently excelled in, transferred to his quest for success in the political arena.
None of the major players are introduced and while the more obvious characters are instantly recognisable like that played by Thandie Newton, a ringer for Condoleezza Rice, others like “Rummy”, Bush’s defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, or Carl Rove appear without any dramatic introduction or explanation of who and what they are.
This may not be a problem for the American audience the film is aimed at but it certainly will puzzle, confuse and disappoint the general cinema-going public this side of the Atlantic.