Earlier this year, Josh Brolin debuted a short film he directed (and screened at SXSW), called X. Now, he stars in a major release called W. Is he going to be involved in the remake of V, next? Doubtful, but that’s probably because after W, Brolin’s career will never be the same. He’s fantastic in this new Oliver Stone film, detailing the unpredictable and astonishing rise of President George W. Bush. The entire cast is pretty effective and uncanny, it’s a shame the film itself isn’t as risky an endeavor.
I’m all fine with a balanced, fair take on George W. Bush. It’s okay that the film portrays him as a a sympathetic bumbler who backed in to the White House after a series of failures. I just wish the film was the sort of fever dream exploration Stone undertook with his 1995 masterpiece, Nixon. Granted, this film was hurried through production. When Brolin was at SXSW in March, there was no inkling that he would even be part of this film, yet they rushed it to the finish line for a release before the 2008 election. And, kudos to Stone and Lionsgate for having the nerve to get it done.
W is highly watchable and instantly captivating, as it depicts people that are either still, or just recently, involved in the most powerful job in the world. It’s funny, tragic, engaging, and smart. However, it also feels like one part of a larger story that never really gets told. I don’t mean that the film should have been a smear job on Bush (though some in the audience I saw it with could be heard hissing and booing throughout), I just mean that it feels like an epic story that Stone squeezed into a 90-minute box.
Bush is not an overly complicated man, and perhaps that’s part of the point. However, I could have used more about the system and the machine that drove his Presidency to insanity. As it is, the film serves as a jarring experience, but one that never drags or yawns. Primarily because Brolin is so damn good in the role. He elevates his craft to a place it’s never been, and I would be shocked if he doesn’t garner an Oscar nomination. His performance is not just an impersonation of George W. Bush. It’s a textured and organic portrayal of this real-life Frank Capra character, without the happy ending.
At the film’s swanky premiere party this week at The Metropolitan Club, the spirit of George W. Bush was evident in the catering. While the party itself had a strict dress code (no jeans) and the venue was a beautiful space, the menu included tasty versions of no-frills cuisine like pretzels, Cheetos, chili, fajita tacos, mac ‘n’ cheese, and Corona. Brolin mingled freely and stopped for photos with fans throughout the night. I got a chance to connect with him for the first time in months, and he was excited about the opening of the film, but also in the middle of busy week preparing to host Saturday Night Live. I didn’t think to ask him whether or not he would take his dead-on W impression into the sketch comedy format.