Now playing. Rated PG-13. Written by Stanley Weiser. Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright. Running time: 125 minutes. Lionsgate.
The film doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the 43rd U.S. president’s buffoonery, but it puts his troubled youth and political life in the context of his struggle to gain the approval of his dad, George H.W. Bush.
It has the obvious humor that comes from years of misspoken sentences and misunderestimations, but Bush’s impressive determination and genuine faith are portrayed straightforwardly.
For all of us who have wondered how in the blue hell Bush ever managed to work his way into the Oval Office in the first place, the movie takes us through it, from the time he resolved to “never be out-Texaned or out-Christianed again” after losing a U.S. House race to a conservative Democrat, to the strategy sessions with “genius boy” Karl Rove, where the rhetoric that brought him to the top was developed.
The film flashes back and forth between scenes of Bush’s drunken youth and the intense cabinet meetings that would come later. Bush is bailed out of one mess after another until getting himself, and the country, and the world, into Iraq, where there are no bailouts.
Something feels strange about the movie. Maybe the history is too fresh. Maybe we just don’t care about Bush anymore, as we stare down the election. And a straightforward look at the life of someone like Bush doesn’t exactly make for the most soul-shaking content.
But Stone uses some fun devices. One scene has Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Tommy Franks and Colin Powell wandering aimlessly through an empty field, talking about invading Iraq. Other preludes to catastrophe go along with ironic, happy music.
Actor Josh Brolin sounds exactly like W., Richard Dreyfuss looks exactly like Cheney and actress Thandie Newton both looks and sounds just like Rice — pinched voice, flinch and incessant head-nodding included.
James Cromwell skips over trying to look or sound like Bush Sr., but he impressively captures him anyway.
The film is both funny and enraging, and is a fitting way to celebrate the end of the funniest and most enraging U.S. presidential administration in history.