Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Josh Brolin and James Cromwell. Rated PG. Opens Friday, October 17, at the Cinemark Tinseltown and the Ridge Theatre
On the eve of this monumental American election, many citizens (including much of the Republican Party) might prefer that George W. Bush simply wander off into the sunset of history—where “we’ll all be dead”, in the lame duck’s famous locution. Yet here comes Oliver Stone, offering us the mystery of a man with no qualities who somehow attained ultimate power.
The open-ended nature of this tragic saga proves somewhat freeing for the usually bombastic director, who here contents himself with brief episodic sketches unfreighted by overheated symbolism or stylized mayhem, except for a dream sequence that has the swaggering Dubya (excellent Josh Brolin) literally duking it out with his ever-patrician father (an even better James Cromwell).
If the generally entertaining 127-minute film, written by Stanley Weiser (most famous for the again-timely Wall Street) does one thing well, it is to explicate the bizarre rise and fall of a man spectacularly ill-suited to public life in terms of a hopelessly Oedipal cycle: apparently, George Jr. is forever fated to seek his father’s approval, fail to get it, and then attempt to humiliate the old man, only to disappoint him on a grander level each time.
Elsewhere, Weiser’s script crams many of the now-familiar Bushisms into earlier slots, as when Bush first ran for Texas governor or into private meetings with his clan and various cronies. Elizabeth Banks is sympathetic as the fatally passive Laura Bush, and Richard Dreyfuss and Scott Glenn are surprisingly convincing as self-absorbed snakes Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively.
In their takes on enablers Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright don’t quite rise above TV–skit caricatures. But maybe history holds something worse than death for these bad apples; they could be fated to live out their destinies on Saturday Night Live.