A couple of years after I moved to Sacramento in the late Eighties to do classical radio, I learned from natives that Rush Limbaugh had made his way to notoriety on a news talk station here before emigrating to bigger bucks.
They told me that, from time to time, Rush used to poke levity at poor citizens who lived in a northern suburb of Sacramento. (I won't mention the name of the burb.)
That sort of radio schtick struck me then, as it does now, like Rush felt comfortable shooting fish in a barrel.
After seeing the film, "W," I have the same feeling that Oliver Stone ("JFK," "Nixon") might be taking aim at fish of a different color but still vulnerably swimming in circles within an enclosure of the same size. Poor people and beleaguered presidents are easy targets. Class distinctions won't hunt in this territory.
Yet, "W" is a film that was bound to be made, especially so since broadcast journalism has been missing the mark more than it used to back in the day. Film has been the only medium that connects with the public in a significant way to confront many of the contemporary questions, issues and frustration besetting the new century.
Some, I'm sure, believe it to be only karmic blowback or those chickens coming home to roost. For these reasons and the fact that the USA is a very special place for me, I found myself laughing with hesitation and a measured sense of restraint at this quasi-docudrama that lampoons and mocks the presidency of George W. Bush in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's classic film, "Dr. Strangelove."
In a picaresque, episodic style, W covers Mr. Bush from his college days through and into the war in Iraq and its occupation, jumping back and forth in time with intermittent metaphorical flourishes.
All of the actors in the large cast are an approximation of the characters they play; some have more flourish, others show more restraint. Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men," 2007), in the title role, has solidly absorbed a caricature of Mr. Bush that works well, although Brolin's performance maintains a constancy of nervous tension that never wanes.
Laura Bush is played by Elizabeth Banks ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," 2005) who is currently being seen as Miri in a new sappy and gross comedy, called "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." Banks is striking in the character of the First Lady, who, by the way, is written by screenwriter, Stanley Weiser as one of the good "guys." Weiser wrote the script for 1987's "Wall Street," another film that paired him with director Stone.
Toby Jones ("Infamous," 2006), is Stone's most in-your-face casting. Jones, who is quite short in stature and shown with an unusually shaped head, plays Karl Rove (rather tall) with a taunting resemblance of the politically neocon sharpshooter's likeness.
One of Hollywood's most indefatigably liberal actors, Richard Dreyfuss ("American Graffiti," 1973) has been plopped into a role he surely relishes: Vice President Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss hits all of his marks.
Seldom seen actor, Stacy Keach ("Fat City," 1972), slam dunks it in one of my favorite roles in "W" as Earle Hudd, an evangelical preacher created from a composite of The Reverend Billy Graham and Houston pastor, Kirbyjon Caldwell. Keach plays brother Hudd straight ahead with complete sincerity; a wise move for Stone to make.
James Cromwell takes on the patrician persona of George H. W. Bush well...and Ellen Burstyn blusters into scenes, now and then, as former First Lady, Barbara Bush.
Jeffrey Wright ("Angels in America," 2003) is former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thandie Newton ("Crash," 2004) has the body language of the present Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice down pat. The Rice character elicits chuckles with just her facial expressions in some scenes.
Rob Corddry ("The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") is seen in a few frames of the film as former Bush Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer. But here, Corddry is on his best behavior.
Stanley Weiser maintains that everything in the script is based on fact through research of some twenty books on President Bush. That said, it is clear there had to be some surmising going on as the narrative was created from the news coverage and events of a recent past most of us can clearly recall. At the film's finish, though, the story slips into metaphor with no solid conclusions because there aren't any---yet.
If you see "W," be sure to hangout with the closing credits, at least up through the place where the soundtrack is heavy with Bob Dylan singing, "With God on Our Side." With no surprise whatsoever, poet Dylan's lyrics seem to sum it up quite well, thank you.