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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Review: “W.”

    By kyle | October 18, 2008

    Schlocky and Awful

    Kyle Smith review of “W.”

    O.5 stars/ 4
    131 minutes/Rated PG-13
    Half “Hee-Haw” and half “Dr. Strangelove,” Oliver Stone’s would-be comedy “W.,” is not quite what I expected. It’s worse.

    Stone, who has been wearing out his vocal cords informing interviewers of his vast empathy for his onetime Yale classmate (the two never met on campus), plays the invasion of Iraq against “Yellow Rose of Texas,” devotes nearly half the movie to scene after scene showing Bush stumbling around with a beer bottle or a tumbler of Jack Daniels, and imagines that, behind the scenes, the tightly controlled Yankee-hardened Bush clan of stoics carries on like a bunch of overwrought “Project Runway” contestants.

    Among the film’s most literally incredible moments are those that show President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41), played by James Cromwell without the slightest effort to resemble the man, being decisive, authoritative, forceful, and even manly, qualities he managed to keep under wraps during three decades in the public eye. Playing the title role, Josh Brolin misreads the president’s stiff, just got-off-a-horse body language as a reason to stay in motion at all times, notably during his initial encounter with Laura (Elizabeth Banks, who gives the only restrained performance) at a barbecue. Here and elsewhere W.’s body flits around as if he’s undergoing shock therapy; here and elsewhere, W. speaks, disgustingly, with his mouth open as if he just blew in from the trailer park instead of Skull and Bones.

    One speech Bush delivers while seated on the toilet (where, at a mention of the presidency of another filial success, John Quincy Adams, he says, “That was, like, 300 years ago, wuddn’t it?”). On his inauguration day, he stumbles to greet his father with his pants around his ankles. This isn’t cutting-edge political satire or even wounding invective; it’s just vaudeville.

    Stone jumps around in time, combining remarks made years apart for alleged comic effect (during a campaign for governor of Texas, many famous malapropisms come out, but consecutively, as though nothing Bush says ever makes sense) as Bush evolves from frat-boy to frat-boy businessman to frat-boy governor to frat-boy president. The president’s arms fly up as though signaling a field goal during the centerpiece moment, in which the president and his cabinet discuss the Iraq invasion. (Jeffrey Wright, speaking in some sort of Redd Foxx rumble, is Colin Powell; a twittering Thandie Newton is Condi Rice; Scott Glenn is Rumsfeld and a well-made-up Richard Dreyfuss, hunched over as though tying his shoelaces, is Cheney, though Dreyfuss’ high-pitched nasal whine is more or less the opposite of Cheney’s low rasp.) That scene, featuring unlikely moments of sorority-girl sarcasm such as Colin Powell telling Cheney, “Don’t patronize me, Mr. Five Deferments,” is pitched at a JFK level of paranoia, with Cheney insisting that the U.S. must control the entire Middle East, forever. While standing literally in the shadows he barks, “Control Iran, control Eurasia, control the world. Empire. Real empire. No one will f — k with us again.”

    All such attempts at unveiling an alternative history of the last eight years, though, are undercut by the film’s reliance on cheap gags and forced goofiness; seconds after Dreyfuss’ Satanic moment, the president sounds like Henry Blake on “M*A*S*H,” saying, “We’re not sure who they are, but they’re there.” Gear changes clang like this throughout; Stone wants to be thought of as both commentator and a comic, but he isn’t Stanley Kubrick and his many ironic uses of campy songs à la Strangelove are trite, repetitive and obvious.

    Stone and his cast plainly don’t understand George W. Bush so they (again — I except Banks, who seems to be in a completely different and better movie — settle for a two-hour “Saturday Night Live” sketch that skims every surface.

    Stone still cannot fathom how Bush won four huge elections, thrice bested the man universally acknowledged to be the country’s best debater in 2000 and inspired millions in (to cite a few examples) his speech atop the rubble at the World Trade Center, his Convention address in 2004 and in his second inaugural in 2005. Astonishing but true: Stone simply skips over all of these signature moments because they don’t fit Stone’s one joke about a bumbler who drifted to the top and destroyed the world.

    To put it another way: the film does not show the courageous choice to launch the Surge and the way it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, but does show the pretzel-choking incident, during which the president is shown wearing a novelty T-shirt with a dog on it.

    Except for (perhaps) a scene in which Bush is shown breaking down and praying for salvation, there is not a single moment that shows any reason why anyone would support such an imbecile; in its determined omissions, it’s a bigger insult to the 62 million who voted for Bush than to the man himself.

    Topics: History, Iraq, Movies, Politics | 41 Comments »

    41 Responses to “Review: “W.””

    1. A.C. Says:
      October 16th, 2008 at 4:05 pm

      I read your review on pajamas and it was very astute. I voted for Bush twice and loved the film. I was wondering – did you attend the party at the Metropolitan Club on Tuesday for the film’s NYC premiere? I was there and met some interesting people…

    2. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      October 16th, 2008 at 4:52 pm

      People who voted for Bush twice do meet some interesting people. These people are called psychiatrists.

    3. kyle Says:
      October 16th, 2008 at 5:28 pm

      AC, I was not at that party.

    4. A.C. Says:
      October 16th, 2008 at 5:34 pm

      I seriously, not joking, met a couple who told me what a wonderful man Bill Ayers is and spoke of the great work that the Weather Underground has been doing. I backed away slowly and went back to the taco bar

    5. kyle Says:
      October 16th, 2008 at 5:36 pm

      Well, as BHO said the other night, Bill Ayers is “a college professor”! So he must be okay!

    6. Chet Parker Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 6:54 am

      Well, Ayers is no Charles Keating, thats for sure. And as for Ollie’s little movie, well, its a comedy about a guy who actually did bumble his way to the top and pretty much screwed up the country, if not a good portion of the world. And those ignorant enough to have voted for him, twice, deserve to be embarrassed. I think about them every time I’m visiting a foreign country and see the contempt in the eyes of people who used to smile and make an effort to engage in conversation.

    7. Mo Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 9:13 am

      Ayers is a respectable guy in his neighborhood.

      Who just happened to bomb the pentagon, tell people to kill their parents, police officers and other authoritative figures… and helped instill a strong sense of spreading the wealth around into Obama.

      We should expect this kind of revisionism from the left decades later, but before Bush even gets out of office? Absolutely vitriol and bile.

      Though, they were able to sell that German National Socialism was:
      1) Not marxist (how’d they get away with that one?)
      2) A _far_ right movement.

      That we could get to NaZism by following the path of Reagan is absolutely ridiculous. Yet here we are with our own charismatic marxist in the lead (according to the polls), wanting to spread the wealth around and make the world love us.

      Here’s a pretty interesting article showing the link between Ayers and Obama.

      Not that it matters… I heard on Rush yesterday that a Pollster interviewed moderates leaning left and right and showed them a clip making that point, and the one leaning right that voted for Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 stated:

      “I don’t care, I’ll vote for Obama and hate it. We need to get back to the government controlling everything!”


    8. kyle Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 10:54 am

      @Chet, that is absolute nonsense about foreigners. I’ve been all over France, supposedly the center of anti-Americanism, in several different years during the Bush presidency and never encountered the slightest bit of hostility. The contrary is the case: in 2002, when tourism dried up, the French were morose about their empty restaurants and hotels. Tourism is their no. 1 business. What people say in polls about America when they have their political thinking caps on is completely different from how they actually behave in day-to-day life. Maybe people look at you with contempt because they don’t like you personally.

    9. Mo Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

      “I think about them every time I’m visiting a foreign country and see the contempt in the eyes of people who used to smile and make an effort to engage in conversation.”


      1) Why did France elect a leader that was Pro US and particularly PRO BUSH?

      2) Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a staunch supporter of President Bush and the War on Terror, led his party to a big win in Denmark last November.

      3) Germany elected His decidedly pro-American Angela Merkel. She has regularly visited with Bush.

      Our standing in the world wasn’t damaged by Bush… In fact just the OPPOSITE has happened over the last eight years. So while the democrats were busy destroying our economy with sub prime loans, Bush was solidifying our standing in the world.

      But dems will blame him for destroying that and the economy.

      Dems lied, and integrity died.

    10. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

      Speaking as a European, I can tell you for a fact that, generally speaking, in conversation and the media, Americans are considered ignorant, warmongering religious nutcases and that even a person like Robert Mugabe is regarded with more respect than George Bush. You chaps simply have no idea how much Bush has degraded America in the eyes of the world.

    11. Jason Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 1:02 pm

      …even a person like Robert Mugabe is regarded with more respect than George Bush.

      If so, doesn’t that say more about the “enlightened” European who thinks that than the target of their disgust?

      Hell, even Randy Newman acknowledges that GWB isn’t Hitler or Caligula. He’s certainly no fan of the guy, but at least Newman is a little better about keeping hyperbole in check.

    12. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 1:47 pm

      Of course Bush isn’t Hitler or Caligula: the first invaded a country and, unlike Bush, knew what to do after he had conquered it; the latter made his horse a member of the senate, rather than, like Bush, making himself look like a horse’s ass in the senate.

    13. Mo Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 2:37 pm

      “keeping hyperbole in check.”

      Remember who were talking about here.

      Dems lied, and integrity died.

      (trying the bumper sticker philosophy that the left loves how is it working?)

      I agree with you Jason. The so called “enlightened” are nothing more than moral relativists. And they are still lying about the majority of Europeans because pro-American leaders are WINNING over there. Chances are the reason you see that in conversation is because you hang around like minded people.

      The reason you see it from the media is because of the crazy liberal bias in the media. But remember if it wasn’t for that pesky Fox News, Obama would be up by at least two points.

      Imagine if ALL the networks were doing their job and being critical of BOTH candidates.

    14. kishke Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 4:52 pm


      Speaking as a European,

      You mean as a leftist European, which is the same thing as a leftist American, only worse, if that is even possible.

      I can tell you for a fact

      That’s one of the funniest things you’ve ever written, Hunter.

    15. Jules Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 6:03 pm

      ‘I think about them every time I’m visiting a foreign country and see the contempt in the eyes of people who used to smile and make an effort to engage in conversation.’

      Chet, I am sorry you went through this ordeal abroad. Fortunately, I think you are in a minority.

      …because most Americans don’t actually ever get a passport.

    16. Thomas Galvin, Jr. Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 7:24 pm


      Thanks for your review.

      Don’t forget, President Bush’s best speech was his “We will not tire, we will not fail” speech he delivered to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001.

    17. Mo Says:
      October 17th, 2008 at 10:36 pm


      His oft not heard memorial day speech from this year was pretty good. Especially if one compares and contrasts to Obama’s speech.

    18. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 12:37 am

      Bush is alone among modern Presidents by making even the people who write his speeches for him sound like they spent all of their time in school in Special Ed. Still, it can’t be easy writing a speech for someone who has difficulty pronouncing any word that has more than two syllables.

    19. Harvey Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 10:25 am

      Bush didnt win in 2000.

      What a shock that you gave it half a star. Have you given a positive review to any Iraq-themed film?

    20. Donnie Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 11:10 am

      Of course Mo(short for Moron) is back with his tin hat spouting the right wing talking points and obscuring facts.

      Its interesting and sad that these days the right has turned into a bunch of paranoid conspiracy theorists. Listening to right wing pundits play connect the dots between Obama, Ayers, and Acorn is making them sound like people from the 9/11 Truth movement or worse.

      So much for the supposed party of rationalism. Then again what am I talking about? This the party that says there is no Global Warming, that the theory of evolution is just as valid as creationism and thinks Sarah Palin is innocent of all charges in Troopergate!

      I guess that this is what the Republican death rattle sounds like. So sad.

    21. Donnie Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 11:47 am

      And hilarious! Equating an Obama Presidency with Hitler? LOL!

      I cant seem to understand what scares Republicans so much? An America that is socially a bit more like Europe or Canada?

      You guys have been so brainwashed, and thats the only word I can use, to think that socialism equates to communist totalitarianism. It doesnt.

      All those supposed pro-America countries in Europe you were talking about Mo(none of which is true of course, I deal with alot of Europeans and their attitude towards the states, besides NYC of course which they feel is not really America at all, is very negative and mostly because of W.) are still socialistic like France, the UK, and Denamrk. Not sure of Germany’s plans on healthcare.

      In any case though I really cant fathom why it upsets Repulicans so much that people who lack certain resources will get a bit of assistance from the government on things like healthcare and education. If this is such a nightmare for you I would say you should be sent back to Kindergarden in order to learn how to share and play better with others. Seriously!

      Obama wouldnt even be able to impose such things in this country. We will wind up with a mixed system at best. A little free market and a little social assistance. Never anything that equates with France, Holland, or Spain. But saying this will lead to German National Socialism proves you should have your head examined. Even leading people in the conservative movement dont say crap like this! Its really just down to the pundits who stir the pot of the extreme fringe.

      Dont worry, you will all survive Obama. Things might even improve a bit.

    22. Donnie Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 12:01 pm

      I just cant seem to get off this Nazi parallel with Obama that Mo made. Reason being is that the Republicans are continuing to use a whole bunch of Nazi tactics to smear Obama. Calling him a commie, a terrorist sympathisizer, spouting the “big lie” ad nauseum, etc. Its not surprising though because much like the Nazi’s, as with most who demonize others, the filth is within.

    23. shangui Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 1:31 pm

      Is Obama more socialistic than McCain and the GOP as a whole? Of course. Is this a surprise? But for Republicans to be using this as an insult is pretty funny given what they have been a big part of (a plan and then some created and promoted by their president’s administration) in the last month. I’m certainly not saying the dems would have done things differently, but that’s the point. Bush and his administration have massively increased the size and scope of gov’t in just about every way imaginable. They should be deeply, deeply ashamed, and so should all of you who are still defending them after they’ve done so, at least if you think of ourself of being true traditional conservatives rather than just GOP hacks.

    24. Mo Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 2:28 pm

      “Listening to right wing pundits play connect the dots between Obama, Ayers, and Acorn is making them sound like people from the 9/11 Truth movement or worse.”

      The difference being there’s truth to one and fantasy to the other.

      Connect the dots;

      1) Obama is mentored by Frank Marshall Davis; avowed communist and anti-american. He acknowledges such in his book and refers to him as Frank.

      2) Obama moves to Chicago and becomes a “community organizer”, he has a contract to write a memoir but can’t finish it. It’s suddenly finished in early 1995, the same year that Ayers launched Obama’s political career from his living room. Is it coincidental that Ayers and Davis share viewpoints?

      Is it coincidental that Obama uses nautical references in his memoir when he had NEVER been out to sea, yet Ayers had?

      Is it coincidental that in the mid 90’s Obama TRAINED community organizers within ACORN, and SUED CITIBANK for not making affirmative action loans under the new CRA rules signed by Clinton?

      Sure that may be coincidental if we also didn’t have his 20 year relationship with Wright, also an avowed marxist anti-american.

      Connect the dots… what do you have Donnie?

      Ayers IS a terrorist. He stated that he wishes he had done more. Obama is a commie. What else do you call someone with the connections he’s had in the past WE KNOW ABOUT? What else do you call someone who wants to punish sucess and “spread the wealth around.”? That’s marxism Donnie.

      What else do you call someone who calls “Ayers respectable”, and “I could no more disavow Wright than I could my Grandmother, she is a TYPICAL WHITE PERSON.”

      The difference between what I’m doing and what the Nazi’s did is TRUTH. That NaZi’s espoused lies to propagate their agenda… Much like Demonrats and ACORN do today.

      ACORN is not trying to commit voter fraud, they are just trying to help cartoon characters and 2nd graders vote.

      And how dare you criticize them for doing so you racist bastard.

      Donnie, coming from a former liberal…

      Pull the wool over your eyes and look at who’s policies closer resemble marxist (communist,stalinist,fascist, ,nazi)policies.

      When Someone in Missouri tried to bring up his connection to Ayers, Obama tried to suppress their first ammendment right. When someone in Chicago tried, he went to the DC courts and tried to get an injuction stating they didn’t have that right. (which the DC court upheld their right to be critical of Obama.)

      Who is really practicing Fascism here donnie? I’m glad I was an open minded liberal, it allowed me to break free of their ideology.

    25. kyle Says:
      October 18th, 2008 at 5:44 pm

      @Harvey, yes.

    26. mike Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 5:40 am

      not counting Persepolis?

    27. Des Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 7:05 am

      Nice review. I don’t care what your politics are, a bad movie is a bad movie and although the trailer made me giggle, I got the feeling this was going to be a couple steps down from Zohan. Is there any point where people in Hollywood will stop trying to explain the world to us, the “unwashed masses,” and go back to attempting to make entertaining movies?

      BTW, I love when a commentator pointed out an interview with Stone slamming Bush for not achieving the same grades he did at Yale, but “forgetting” to mention that Stone dropped out. What’s that saying about glass houses?

    28. kyle Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

      @Mike, Persepolls is about Iraq? That’s funny, I thought it was about this whole other country called Iran. Go Colts.

    29. kishke Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 2:10 pm

      because most Americans don’t actually ever get a passport.

      That’s b/c we’re already in the country the rest of the world is flocking to.

      And hilarious! Equating an Obama Presidency with Hitler? LOL!

      Was it equally hilarious when Hunter (like countless other lefties) compared Bush to Hitler? Over-the-top rhetoric begets more of the same.

    30. Wayne M. Sarf Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 9:14 pm

      So “Hunter Tremayne” says that Hitler, “invaded a country and, unlike Bush, knew what to do after he had conquered it…”

      So may we assume that “Hunter” thinks Mr. Bush erred in not establishing a Gestapo regime in Iraq and rounding up Jews and other “inferiors” for extermination? Is “Hunter Tremayne” an actual advocate of Nazi-style tyranny and genocide?

      Or is he just being goofy?

    31. Jules Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 10:28 pm

      Kinko: I think it has more to do with the fact you are in a country in which employers often only allow staff to have two weeks holiday a year. So there isn’t really much point for them to go on a holiday more than a few miles outside of their trailer parks.

    32. kishke Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

      Jules, you’re here, not there. And no one (other than the husbands of underage Pakistanis given in forced marriages) is lining up to enter Great Britain.

    33. Brian Says:
      October 19th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

      Go to war, spend a trillion dollars,lose 5000 lives in order to create a Shia Democracy aligned with Iran? Hmmm. Sounds like a bleeding heart liberal fantasy. Is Bush a liberal?

      Believe that markets don’t need to be regulated in spite of 5 recessions already caused by deregulation? Hmmm.

      Tax breaks for the rich, trickle down economics, medium income falls by $3000. Hmmm.

      Yes, I’m going to see this picture and find out how such a bright logician became President.

    34. Colin Says:
      October 20th, 2008 at 11:29 am

      “Believe that markets don’t need to be regulated in spite of 5 recessions already caused by deregulation? Hmmm.

      Tax breaks for the rich, trickle down economics, medium income falls by $3000. Hmmm.”

      Can someone enlighten me as to all of the deregulation that occurred under Bush’s watch? Is SarBox a piece of deregulation? Also, what is “medium income”?

    35. Nabi Says:
      October 20th, 2008 at 2:43 pm

      I woulda thought a movie about Clinton would have been more marketable (objectively speaking, as a Canadian). The second term of his reign was a daily offering of pure farce: juvenile sex, greasy hypocrites, silly women and comical twists twice a week. Also, because of Clinton’s book, we know that he was stewing–a neat, comical counterpoint that could have been used to flesh out the cartoon.

      It sounds like Stone misses the point: a hard look at most of the presidencies suggests that most of them stumbled beyond their depth. Even the ones revered as heroes inevitably revealed some broad absurd streak, apparently a byproduct of the job. Kubrik’s concept that silliness is universal is more sustainable than Stone’s partisan outlook.

    36. sam Says:
      October 20th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

      can’t blame clinton for this one:

    37. jenwiess Says:
      October 20th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

      Kyle,why do you have to be so predictable? If it is not a pro-Republican film, you hate it.Yea, you like Redacted only because you got a great laugh on the stupidity of the grunts while the real perpetrators of the true crimes against humanity: the officers; like yourself get away with being the true villains and instigators of discord.You should be ashamed of yourself you brainwashed twerp! Thanks again for being an annoying tard as always.This is one trait you can always expect from Kyle which is why, as a journalist, he has no credibility. A good journalist keeps an open and fresh mind, not a brain filled with rotten eggs and venom.I have gone beyond criticizing each one of your revies individually since they are all the same if the film is political.Instead it is better to attack you and your inability of journalistic competence.
      Sure you can be a funny man and mister sarcastic, but it’s no longer that funny when the conventional intelligent person can predict what you are going to say before you say it.So what’s the point of even hearing what you have to say when you are nothing but an robotic, predicable Automaton.Wake up Kyle!!!

    38. kyle Says:
      October 20th, 2008 at 11:13 pm

      @JenWiess: Sarcastic? Moi?

    39. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      October 21st, 2008 at 3:15 am

      @ JenWeiss. Well said, and absolutely accurate.

      @ Kyle. The phrase is actually “Pretentious? Moi?”

    40. Jules Says:
      October 21st, 2008 at 12:15 pm

      Hunter, the answer to both questions is ‘yes.’

    41. mike Says:
      October 21st, 2008 at 8:56 pm

      You got me… Go Colts!