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Oliver Stone's 'W': Is This Movie Necessary?

October 17th, 2008 9:40am EDT
WTurn on any television lately and it is near impossible to avoid the immense amount of political coverage being offered -- which is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the magnitude of this years election. One of the few refuges from the pundits and wonks was the local Cineplex, this all changes this weekend with the release of Oliver Stone's W.

The question is: Is this movie necessary? Well, maybe. It is an interesting dynamic that this movie is being released -- thanks to a rush production job; they started filming in May! -- while George W. Bush is still very much the President of the United States. Though, Bush's current occupational status is not what creates this dynamic. As of this writing, George W. Bush role in United States politics -- as the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain march toward their election-day conclusion -- is , by all respects, insignificant.

What are far from insignificant are the lasting effects -- for better or for worse - of Bush's eight years in office. His presidency will, with little doubt, go down as one of the most controversial of the past one hundred years despite his, almost shocking, current irrelevance. No matter what one thinks of George W. Bush personally, he makes a compelling figure for a motion picture. The question should not really be if a movie about Bush is warranted, but more if it is warranted to have it so soon.

WOliver Stone, obviously, disagrees with this sentiment. So much so, he put the production of W. into a nitrogen fueled overdrive to make sure it came out before election-day -- completing filming and production in a blistering six months. But why? Why not wait five, or, possibly, ten years when the story has fleshed itself out with a semblance of an actual conclusion? Love him or hate him, no one has any idea what Bush's true legacy will be.

Obviously, this is not Stone's first foray into films focusing on the commander in chief. But, consider that 1991's JFK was released twenty-eight years after the tragic end of the Kennedy administration; Twenty-one years had passed before the release of 1995's Nixon. In both of these occasions the legacy of these two former opponents were fairly solidified in history and, as in Nixon, a new angle character study of this controversial figure seemed logical. Most of the secrecy of the Nixon administration is now public knowledge. This is far from the case with Bush.

Over the next few years, the most guarded of current presidential secrets will eventually leak, they always do (and are already starting to, an example would be former press secretary Scott McClellan's book). Stone is going to be painting a portrait of a George W. Bush who has severe daddy issues, which by most accounts is true and infinitely fascinating. The problems will arise when trying to recreate high-level cabinet meetings. For example: In one scene, when informed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush laments into his "Fool me once … we won't get fooled again" declaration. The problem with this is that line was given in a speech. Yes, it may be possible that he butchered this line more than one time, but the odds are he didn't. Probably. Well … who knows.

Now, perhaps Stone wanted this film to come out when it is in an effort to sway votes. Well, there is precedent here. Remember, Michael Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11 right before the 2004 election. Yes, he won an Oscar, but he did not change the outcome of the election (unless, everyone really misread that movie and he wanted Bush to win?). Right now, George W. Bush's approval rating is at historic lows; who is Stone trying to sway? Bush is not running for any office, why not wait and let the Bush story let itself play out over the next few years then make the movie? It is an interesting subject matter, there is no doubt about that. But, it seems like the subject matter is going to have to be revisited. We already had two terms of George W. Bush, the last thing we need, as a country, is two movies about him.

Mike Ryan
Story by Mike Ryan

Starpulse contributing writer


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