November 12, 2009

Movie Review: W.

When talking about movies, I try very hard to talk about more than its plot. I tend to think that if a major motion picture (which I was willing to see) got made, its plot is likely interesting/worthy, so if the movie is lacking in some way, there's probably another aspect of the filmmaking process to blame. But it's awfully hard to keep plot out of it with 'W.'.

It shouldn't surprise you that 'W.' - released a month before Barack Obama was elected as successor to George W. Bush as president and directed by the notorious government conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone - was a bit heavy handed. In case you didn't know Stone's angle beforehand, as soon as the movie starts (once you get past the too-oft-repeated just plain dum' baseball metaphor scene), the point is clear: George W. Bush is dumb. He's mostly good intentioned, but rich, privileged, needy, defensive, arrogant and surrounded by evil doers (whose names rhyme with Rainy and Stove) who only care about power and oil. These people are to blame for anything and everything bad that happened in America between September 12, 2001 and today. Except, you know, in a light-hearted satirical kind of way. I'm on board with all of this, and it still felt like a bit much, so that should tell you something.

One major issue I had with the film is how dated it already feels. Barely a year after its release, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are painfully and frustratingly front-of-mind, the focus was too much on how and why we got into Iraq without contributing anything new to that discussion.

Let's move beyond plot before I go to lefty on you.

Poor Josh Brolin - over the last three years, he's been in 'Milk' (assassin), 'No Country for Old Men' (cuckhold), 'American Gangster' (corrupt cop) and this (punchline); he's finally becoming legitimate as an actor (Previous credits include: 'Hollow Man,' 'The Mod Squad' and 'Bed of Roses') and all these characters are so darn unlikable!

The movie was prettier than I expected. All those scenes of powerful government figures, walking outdoors so their conversations don't get bugged, were full of light in all the right places.

It pains me to say it, because I think she is out-of-control beautiful and a very underrated actress, but Thandie Newton was distractingly bad. Her attempt at Condoleeza Rice was so focused on the voice that it seemed like she was playing her in an SNL parody. This stood out especially in comparison to the void of an accent from James Cromwell, who was playing George Bush Senior. Clearly, George HW Bush has an accent; Cromwell chose to play him without one. Fine, but then an accent imitation shouldn't be the main focal point of any other character.

Here is something I don't often pick up on: The score. There was nothing out of the ordinary with this movie's score until an hour and a half into it: We're in a pivotal scene, a war room of sorts - Lines are being drawn, speeches are being made...and horribly ridiculous piano notes start coming from nowhere. They crescendo as Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell finishes a powerful speech about not going to war (remember how I called the film "heavy handed"?) and then die out...just to pick up again as Richard Dreyfuss, an almost painful Dick Cheney doppelganger, gives his most obvious villainous speech. Later in this same scene, there's a Bush speech where the painful piano notes are replaced by guitar plucking. Totally unnecessary, this awkwardness continued for the rest of the movie.

To be honest, I'm probably going out of my way to critique this movie because I don't want to feel like I'm just fulfilling my liberal duty by signing off on it with a big stamp of approval Overall, it was too preachy and too long, but pretty funny and definitely well made.

7.25 Twix bars!


Kato said...

Previous credits include: 'Hollow Man,' 'The Mod Squad' and 'Bed of Roses' -- and The Goonies!

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