Friday, October 17, 2008

A sitting President gets Stone'd.

Say what you will about the man, but after eight years of leading this country to what history will distinguish as a legendary low point, you get what you deserve. And that's why a sitting president can't escape his final months in office without having Oliver Stone decide it's time to make a movie.
That movie is W. (For the neophytes, that's pronounced "Dub-ya"). The shortest title for a movie we've covered this year is perhaps also the quirkiest movie, both regardless of and because of it's subject matter.

W., directed by Stone, was written by Stanley Weiser. It's perhaps appropriate that while the country is facing it's greatest economic collapse in a generation or two of memory, Weiser was also the man who penned one of the most classic lines from Hollywood for the fictional character of Wall Street power broker Gordon Gecko, "Greed is Good". Somewhere buried in W. must be the echoes of "executive powers are awesome". ( You can almost hear that snide little muffled George Bush laugh at the thought, a laugh nicely mimicked by W. star Josh Brolin in the new film.)

In interview after interview, Stone has been questioned about the film by reporters who seemed surprised, some seemingly taken aback, at how "fair and balanced" the film's treatment of George Bush seems to be. After a famously opinionated take on JFK's assassination and another on Nixon's resignation ending term in office exacerbated by that President's own deep and personal flaws, anything less than an all out attack on George Bush seems to have been eagerly anticipated, ripe for assault and (taking in account recent approval polls), decidedly deserved in the opinions of more than 70% of the potential audience. Instead Stone takes a more neutral approach and both surprised fans and silenced critics.

There in lies the beauty of satirizing and exposing incompetence and corruption when your subject does such a wonderful job of both all by himself. Stone's experience and savvy as a seasoned Hollywood writer and director has suggested just the right touch on a film that could have easily lapsed into broad parody or heavy handed editorial. In what may be the master stroke of the movie, Stone seems to have simply taken on the role of observer (albeit an observer with a keen eye for cinematic style), of a third person storyteller relating a tale that leaves it's opinions to the audience, leaving them to decide what is exaggeration, inexplicable fact and monumental human error. It's akin to watching a skilled trial attorney catch his witness in a self-incriminating lie on the witness stand. When you want to prove you're subject deserves to be looked on as a moron, simply page back the curtain enough to let your audience watch his moronic backstage behavior. George Bush, this is your life.

With fall films doing what the season implies and serious tone in movies being shunned for talking Chihuahuas, W. is not an easy sell. Politics have run their season and then some, and even the typical sideline humor of a political season in overdrive is getting tempered in this election by the gravity of our condition as a society and our diminished influence on the world stage. W. may have only carried real relevance against the very backdrop that is drawn against, a canvas that helps to reveal the chaotic pallet of crisis we've inflicted upon ourselves with such pathetic and uncontrolled loss of leadership. Though it appears to be proven that the wealth spilled upon the heads of the rich and meant to trickle downward, has instead found random paths into the deep pits of executive and privileged bank accounts, the bankrupted and decimated stores of brave and patriotic leaders has shamefully been supplanted with moral corruption and incompetence. Unfortunately that commodity is raining down on the poor and working class with the ferocity of a levee breaking deluge.

Even if W. doesn't nail down a big audience this weekend and return box-office numbers to build ad campaigns around, the return on investment from a creative standpoint is still assured. This was the right timing for this film, indeed this is a film about timing. Oliver Stone took the right tact and President George W. Bush should stand accountable for the audiences that will follow over time. Audiences who, with the benefit of perspective, should heed the story of the film as an artistic expression uniquely inspired by the very canvas it is painted upon.

If you're interested n learning more about the film, is currently featuring clips from AMC's Shootout on our Sprocket Holes page, just click here. There are also news clips about the film and it's release on our front Previews page here.

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