Friday, October 17, 2008

Will "W." Matter?

Oliver Stone's latest film, his third about a US President and his second about 21st century political events, goes into wide release today, much to the moan of Conservatives (and a lot of Liberals too).  Stone's film was rushed into production, hurried through, and blasted through post so he could release it three weeks before the election.  Most people asked, why?  Why Bush, and why now?  Most people who watch films from a historical perspective loathe the man for his purposeful reworking of history, challenging conventional prisms of thought to usually arrive at rather ambiguous conclusions.  Partly, I can understand Stone's strategy; he wants to make a cultural document WITHOUT the hindsight, without the context of history, without the final judgment of who was right and who was wrong.  He wants to try and examine President Bush under his own lens, try to get to the core of the man provide a COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE interpretation before the history books deal with objectivity.
That said, many fear that "W." will turn into the kind of cartoonish portraiture offered by Michael Moore in his immensely controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11," mercilessly parading insults and jokes about George W. Bush, pointing the finger squarely at him for all of America's faults and manipulating him into appearing to be the dumbest president ever has ever seen.  This is to discount Stone's last film, "World Trade Center."  The film had MANY inherent problems, mostly in its over-the-top, teary dramatics.  BUT the visual style and Stone's care in trying to represent events as they happened, filtered through personal prisms, and the use of a restrained, almost invisible camera/editing approach was a SIGNIFICANT departure from his earlier work that merits a further look for anyone too quick to dismiss him.

So I haven't seen "W." yet.  Planning to this weekend.  But what made me want to write this post is that I'm actually kind of stunned at what I'm reading on Metacritic.  Right now the film hovers at 60% critical average, which is just about where I thought it would be.  I wasn't expecting many people to praise the film regardless of how good or bad it actually is, mainly because of its overt politics and subject matter, and the community's deteriorating lack of respect for Oliver Stone as an auteur.  What surprises me is the kind of ink the film is getting despite many mixed reviews; it seems Stone largely abandons his conspiracy theory hyper-edit filmmaking.  He may take liberties with history, but he's trying to do something entirely different.  Examine the following snippets:

Roger Ebert (who gave it four stars): "Fascinating...this film contains no revisionist history"

Charlotte Observer: "You'll be disappointed if you expect famed leftist Oliver Stone to apply a coup de grace to this man...[he's] more interested in examining the conditions that put Bush where he is now and made him the political animal he is"

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Seems a much more even-handed and thoughtful take on the man than anyone might have expected"

New York Daily News: "A measured and thoughtful meditation"

The New York Times: "Neither a pure (nor impure) sendup of the president nor a wholesome takedown, the film looks like a traditional biopic with all the usual trappings...History is said to repeat itself as tragedy and farce, but here it registers as a full-blown burlesque...As comic as it is sincere...A work of imagination...[that] does something most journalism and even documentaries can't or won't do: it reminds us what a long, strange trip it's been to the Bush White House."

New York Post: "An often compelling, tragicomic psychological analysis"

Los Angeles Times: "It is an interpretation of personality intersecting with history, and as a piece of drama it is persuasive and perfectly creditable"

Entertainment Weekly: "Josh Brolin...does such a phenomenal job in the title role that he carries every scene he's in to a place of subtlety and integrity"

I've said this countless times since I saw the full length trailer: despite how good this movie ends up being, it seems endlessly interesting. 

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