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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: W.



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#1 of 1 Timothy E

Timothy E

    Supporting Actor

  • 851 posts
  • Join Date: Jul 20 2007

Posted February 08 2009 - 02:16 PM

Note: This review has been written to conform with HTF Rule 4. All posts in this thread
should similarly conform to the Rule. Technical questions or questions about features are
welcome from anyone. Discussion of the film's content requires that you have seen it (see
Rule 4).


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Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2009
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish


Release Date: February 10, 2009

The Movie
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W. is a dramatic presentation of the life of the 43rd U.S. President, George W. Bush. This film does not venerate its subject in the same manner as other biographies about U.S. presidents: this fact is telegraphed on the cover of the DVD, which depicts former President George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) slouching in profile in an executive chair while wearing business attire and snakeskin cowboy boots. A viewer’s receptivity to this approach is obviously dependent upon their opinion of the 43rd U.S. President. Director Oliver Stone has invited controversy in the past with his motion pictures, and he continues to do so with this film. W. reunites director Oliver Stone with screenwriter Stanley Weiser, with whom he collaborated previously on Wall Street.

W. begins after President Bush is well into his first term in office, and the story then jumps back and forth into the past and then back to the president’s first term. Stone uses this storytelling device in many of his movies, and it seems to be employed here to good effect.

W. is an entertaining film but the story is superficial compared to other biographical pictures. The earliest age at which we see George W. Bush is in his late teens, so any events from his childhood are glossed over entirely. Anyone who is curious about the 43rd President’s relationships with his family and friends will be disappointed, since only his father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), figures prominently among his family members. Laura Bush is played as a supportive wife by Elizabeth Banks and Barbara Bush is played by Ellen Burstyn, but their characters are not given much to do in this film. The story in this film plays more like a series of vignettes than as part of a larger story. The lack of depth to this film is perhaps most evident in the fact that there are no roles in the film for Jenna and Barbara, daughters of George and Laura. A complete character study of any man should show something of his relationships with his children, whether those relationships be good, bad, or indifferent.

The screenplay does not play down to the audience to the extent that it assumes the audience knows the prominent members of the president’s cabinet, so there is little in the way of unnecessary exposition or captions on the screen to identify each person. Stone has cast a variety of fine actors in various roles, including Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney), Thandi Newton (Condoleeza Rice), Scott Glenn (Donald Rumsfeld), Toby Jones (Karl Rove), Bruce McGill (George Tenet) and Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell). The film does not even require the audience to know the identity of any of these persons, but having that knowledge will obviously lend more richness to a screenplay that still only scratches the surface as a character study of the 43rd President.

When it comes to character studies of U.S. Presidents, Oliver Stone has already set the bar high for himself with Nixon, which presented a much more complete portrait of Richard M. Nixon than what is offered in W. The vignettes that compose W. fail to come together in a satisfying manner as a biographical study in the same way that other bio-pics, such as Nixon, succeed in their own way. (At least the characters of President Nixon’s daughters had small roles in Nixon to allow the audience some small glimpse into Nixon’s family relationships.) It can be argued that the end of the story in W. has not yet been written, which might explain why the story in this film does not end with a dramatic conclusion.

Video
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The video is anamorphic wide-screen 2.35:1. The picture is sharp without any artifacts and looks as good, if not better, than one expects from a film of recent vintage.

Audio
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W. has English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks, as well as a separate director’s commentary track by Oliver Stone. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track provides a surprising amount of ambient sounds from the rear speakers, much more so than you might expect in this type of dramatic film, which helps it succeed in immersing you in the events of the film.

Special Features
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The special features include all of the following:

Director’s Commentary: Oliver Stone provides a feature length audio commentary.

Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Legacy (17:46): Various authors and historians offer opinions on the wars in Iraq and the evolution of presidential powers in the last 40 years.

Filmmakers’ Research and Annotations Guide: Accessible on computers equipped with DVD-R drives and PDF viewers.

Trailer (1:33): Theatrical trailer for W.

Also From Lionsgate: Trailers for My Bloody Valentine 3-D, The Spirit, Bangkok Dangerous, Mondays In The Sun, and O. These trailers also show automatically at the beginning of the disc.

Conclusion
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W. is significant as a motion picture, if for no other reason than it is apparently the first major motion picture about a U.S. president to be filmed and released in theaters while the subject is still in office. It is an entertaining film but fails as a character study of the 43rd President. Other than portraying a conflicted relationship with his father, W. shows us almost nothing of its subject’s relationships with other family members and friends. Director Stone reportedly made efforts towards objectivity in this film, but those efforts result in a film that will satisfy neither the supporters nor the critics of George W. Bush. History is subjective, and is viewed always in context of events that follow, and the success or failure of the presidency of George W. Bush is dependent not only on events during his presidency but also on the events that will follow it. Likewise, the true merits of this film will probably best be judged in comparison with the other films on this subject that are yet to come.