Oliver Stone's George W. Bush biopic W. opened in theaters Friday, Oct. 17. As the Chicago Reader's J.R. Jones sums up the plot, "Oliver Stone tells the story of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) from his youth as a spoiled, oblivious fuckup to his maturity as a spoiled, oblivious fuckup." Slate’s Dana Stevens says, “Neither satire nor biopic, the film is a kind of secular pageant, enacting with dogged literality the well-known stations of the cross of Bush’s life… The moments scroll up the screen like the song titles on one of those greatest-hits collections advertised on TV.”
Apart from Roger Ebert's unqualified, four-star rave of the film as "fascinating," critics have given the movie mixed reviews, while praising No Country for Old Men's Brolin as President Bush. Scott Tobias of the Onion's A.V. Club says, "It's a credit to Josh Brolin's superb performance that the film works at all; as the lead, he transcends a gallery of Saturday Night Live-level impersonations by seizing on the essence of Bush's character rather than his arsenal of funny mannerisms." Manohla Dargis of the New York Times offers more tempered praise: “Mr. Brolin eases through these transitions effortlessly, but it’s a necessarily incomplete performance because, like all the major White House Players, his character looms too large in our lives for him to fully possess… Good as he is, he can’t touch the original.”
Sharper detractors include Rolling Stone's Peter Travers ("Whatever you think of Dubya, he has balls. The movie doesn't.") and Time's Richard Corliss: "The person remains an enigma. The movie is an X-ray of an invisible man – by the film's end, the W. still stands for Who?"
Critics give credit to Stone for being unexpectedly evenhanded, even while rapping him for failing to go far enough. "There's nothing overtly or even subtly disreputable about Oliver Stone's 'W.,' which is exactly what's wrong with it," says Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com. "It's when Stone engages in shameless editorializing – when he lets his freak-flag point of view fly, rather than tempering it – that 'W.' is most entertaining and most vital." New York Magazine's David Edelstein concurs, saying, "[Stone's] greatest attribute – and I say this as someone whose least favorite film of all time is Natural Born Killers – has always been a lusty, blowhard showmanship. In the midst of these tumultuous times, in the midst of this tumultuous election, Stone has delivered his most tepid film."
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