Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Here are five reasonable concerns a moviegoer might have in advance of seeing Oliver Stone's new film W., each addressed in turn by a critic who has seen it.
1. "It might have been better with puppets instead of live actors."
Something in the highly depraved ensemble-romp spirit of Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles, perhaps? A good thought, but given the evidence of Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser's generally earnest disposition, not to mention the stock-sentimental score by Paul Cantelon, this is no mere blackly comic burlesque, thank you very much.
Still, W. is the sort of movie we can't help but evaluate in part by comparing its actors to the public figures they impersonate and trying to determine whether the performances transcend impersonation.
On that score it's a mixed bag: We run from Thandie Newton, with a creaky, sketch-comedy-grade caricature of Condoleezza Rice, to Jeffrey Wright, so scene-stealingly good as Colin Powell that you almost wish it was his movie (rather in the way you might once have almost wished it was his administration). Meanwhile, James Cromwell imbues George H.W. Bush with dignity and humanity, and Josh Brolin does his own spot-on, mission-accomplishing heckuva job as the eponymous Shrub.
2. "It will make that simpering, phony, recklessly murderous, anti-intelligent, nationally and historically embarrassing, born-again frat boy seem somehow sympathetic. (After all, it was Oliver Stone who made a movie biography of Richard Nixon, and even made him sympathetic, for Christ's sake.)"
Stone reportedly took a while to get this movie funded because some potential backers thought the thing was too pro-Bush. And yes, it tends to depict Dubya as a well-meaning regular fella stuck in dad's shadow, whose education from Yale and Harvard counted against him both among Texas constituents who resented him for it and among elite urban-coastal liberals who couldn't stand that it was wasted on him. But it's not like Oliver Stone has somehow become a freaking FOX News correspondent.
3. Conversely, "The big-screen experience of it will be spoiled by hissing partisans in the audience who, with about as much restraint as Puritan witch-burners, must let everyone in the theater know how much they despise the man."
Well, OK, there is that risk. Given this particular biography, certain low expectations, like the Jack Daniel's product placement, are built right in.
4. "With so many dramatic, comedic and cathartic biographical vignettes to choose from, it will leave out the really good ones."
So what, if Bush reading The Pet Goat to Florida schoolchildren for seven minutes after being informed of the Sept. 11 attacks already was covered in Fahrenheit 9/11 and still is very painful to watch? Isn't that exactly why W. should have included it? The movie does get away with a fairly sloppy overall dramatic structure, stitching choice flashbacks onto a highlight reel from Bush's two terms in the Oval Office almost at random.
But not having enough time is the nature of this medium. Eight years and these eight, in particular might seem practically endless, but 110 movie minutes can elapse in a relative flash. To Stone's credit, they do.
5. "It won't be as good as the 1974 suspense thriller W, starring Twiggy, Michael Witney and Dirk Benedict."
Maybe not, but it is more topical.