With Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn, James Cromwell, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, Bruce McGill, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Stacey Keach and Scott Glenn.
“Whose job is it to find these damn weapons?”
When it was announced that Olive Stone was going to direct a biopic about George W. Bush, I was excited. I am a gigantic fan of “Nixon” his other presidential biopic and due to the fact the screenplay was written by Stanley Weiser who also wrote Stone’s “Wall Street”. It seemed like a collaboration made in heaven.
The film is set up nicely, the way it crosscuts back and forth between Bush (Josh Brolin) being pulled by his posse into a war in Iraq and plans to invade Iran to Bush’s slow rise of becoming a born again Christian and politician. We see a young Bush not being able to hold job after job and disappointing his father (James Cromwell).
We all know the story of George Bush. It’s all too fresh. . A lot of the film feels like satire – even a comedy – which I think was a mistake. I understand that a lot of what Bush says is dumb due to his intelligence, but most of Brolin’s dialogue is a running joke with famous Bushisms.
The cast is a wonderful ensemble of good quality actors but it seems to misfire. I found that the best casting was Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Dreyfuss’ character in Rob Reiner’s “The American President” was based off of Cheney – so Dreyfuss was a perfect fit. Next to that excellent selection was Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The ironic thing is Glenn was a Marine who served overseas while the real Donald Rumsfeld somehow evaded the draft (as did Cheney). I couldn’t help but think a slimmed down Nick Nolte or Tommy Lee Jones would have made a pretty good Rumsfeld too.
Brolin gives a good performance but the problem that I have is that all I see is Josh Brolin, I didn’t see George W. Bush. He’s more than capable to soak himself into characters (“No Country for Old Men” and “Planet Terror”). As Bush he just seemed as if he was an impersonator. Jeffery Wright who I like very much gave an unbelievable performance as General Colin Powell. General Powell is a man of great intellectual strength and physical dominance – Jeffery Wright is a small man, and his brooding, husky voice was distracting. I couldn’t help but think that Dennis Haysbert would have been perfect for the role.
Veteran character actor Bruce McGill was cast perfectly as fall guy FBI Director George Tennet and so were James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn as George H. W. and Barbra Bush. Thandie Newton gives a horrifically great performance as Condoleezza Rice – the token minority that was stuffed into Bush’s cabinet. The one casting that was distractingly horrid was that of Ioan Gruffudd as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Michael Sheen wasn’t available?
The film seems to take light brush strokes on a majority of defining moments of the Bush Legacy. It’s not epic enough. The film seemed to breeze by and wasn’t sincere enough. One thing I did really like was that this film didn’t vilify Bush; it didn’t take a huge shit on him. You actually feel bad for him. He’s a good hearted person who just gets pushed and pulled by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
Stone has always made films that deal with our current status in America (even “Alexander” had themes of over extending an empire). He uses a lot of his wonderful filmmaking skills in the film, but it just lacks an overall dramatic substance that’s a staple of his films. It just felt as if he was going through the motions and he wasn’t as passionate about this film as he was with “Nixon”.
But to give Stone credit, the last scene of the film is powerful.