Monday, October 26, 2009

Stone's W.

I watched Oliver Stone's W. on DVD. Overall, I loved it. My spirit soared at Stone's depiction of the planning phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What an unadulterated blast it must have been to have been part of the Bush administration inner circle back in 2002, fresh from apparent victory in Afghanistan, when the whole world lay at our feet. The war room positively oozed testosterone.

And of course, Stone shows how much suckery it would have involved by 2005-6. As any number of commentators have asked, how did so much talent and experience go so awry? How did what even the Democrats called the foreign policy "dream team" make a mash of the post-war planning? Stone gives us one answer, as near as I could tell. Bush and his advisers got too wrapped up in the pitch. By 2003, they found themselves having to sell the war: to the American people, certainly, but also to the Congress and U.N. And like any good salesmen, they had to first convince themselves 100% of their product. Bush turned out to be a master salesman. His conviction and enthusiasm were infectious, even as acted by Josh Brolin, even knowing how bad it was going to get.

I would be hard pressed to regard this as an anti-Bush film. It seemed to capture the arc of Dubya's life nicely: the party-hard young adulthood, the struggle to define himself in his father's shadow, the late-in-life political ambition.

That's not to say the film is without flaws. It transparently articulates the liberal CW circa mid-2008, e.g. that Afghanistan was the "good war" to be contrasted with Iraq. This is especially obvious now, as the Obama administration dithers around trying to figure out what our Afghanistan strategy is or should be.

Other things rang false. It's hard to imagine George W. speaking to, or even about, his father the way Brolin speaks to James Cromwell in this movie, especially after he stopped drinking at age 40. And while Brolin did an impressive job mimicking, though not parodying, Bush's mannerisms and diction, it's hard to imagine Bush erupting in the high-energy tirades to which Brolin treats us. (Alas, Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condeleeza Rice descends into parody.) Also, the movie uncritically relays Colin Powell's subsequent, rather self-serving account of being co opted into supporting the war against his better judgement.

I was also disappointed about what was left out. The movie had no depiction of the events of 9/11, and therefore provides no background to understanding the atmosphere of urgency that prevailed in 2002. The movie aims at a sympathetic portrayal of Laura Bush, but since she's married to what the movie shows as an ambivalent character, the depiction of their courtship falls flat: the audience really doesn't get an understanding of why she falls in love with Bush, or even if she really did.

But otherwise, a fine piece of work. I look forward to Stone's similarly double-edged treatment of the Obama administration.

Um, yeah . . . right.

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