10.19.2008

W.




Josh Brolin in W. (dir. Oliver Stone, 2008).

W. is a movie almost entirely without a point of view. Oh sure, it depicts the Bush presidency and the Iraq invasion as a massive travesty, but that's not a viewpoint; it's just current events. What Oliver Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser fail to include is any rationale for why we ought to be interested in W.'s personal background on any level beyond that which should interest students of politics and history. So he had issues with his father and he really liked baseball. So he was really into jogging. So he was ambitious but kind of dumb. So he was human. So what? If the point is that he was a simple, ordinary man who got thrust into a position far beyond his capabilities, fine, but we should then be given either a valid reason to feel sympathy for him, or a mercilessly satirical caricature of the monster this experience turned him into. As it is, he is presented as too oafish for us to like beyond a mild pity, and too confused for us to hate beyond a weary exasperation. The film reduces both his actual humanity and our legitimate outrage to a series of Lifetime TV moments. Everything is too programmatic and too disorderly at the same time: the plotting is both inert and sporadic, lurching and peakless. Moments of "genuine drama" are interspersed with bits of SNL-style lampooning. Stabs at serious journalistic exposé are squeezed uneasily between episodes of parodic soundbite collage. There are interesting performers, but they aren't allowed to give interesting performances. Josh Brolin is very good, but it doesn't do any good. Although I did laugh in the scene where the bespectacled young waiter comes up behind him in the restaurant to tell him he has a phone call, and he looks at him, jumps a little in his seat, and says "whoa, Buddy Holly!"

5 comments:

Anne Boyer said...

I was just commenting on how we are supposed to experience the film as "W" experiences life -- crudely drawn, sea-sick, visceral, without agency, or only with brute agency. Didn't it occur to you that the pov of the film was w's? Esp. with the fish eyed closeups of faces, the camera literally looking through his eyes (at the ball, at jesus, at the oil rig, etc. etc.)?

K. Silem Mohammad said...

Yes, there's point of view and then there's Point Of View. And Brolin does rise to the occasion in this way, straining with style and skill after the character's salvageable center of identification. But my problem is that Stone neither allows this actorly inhabitation to take place fully, nor does he block it entirely with an adequate dose of outrageousness, thus shifting the focus from any sort of psychological verisimilitude whatsoever to the non-human spectacle that is Bush's public "identity." He tries to do a little of both, and thereby renders it all tepid.

mongibeddu said...

Ain't seen the movie yet, but the teetering you describe between sympathy and satire is what a lot of readers of flarf describe, about, say, the representation of working class culture, though in that case it's not sympathy but celebration that upsets the balance (or rights it, depending on your point of view). Not that this should make you think any better of W; a technique is only as good as the work it produces. But I'm curious if you see any kinship at all.

BF

Patrick Roberts said...

Josh Brolin did a convincing Dubya, though he reminded me a lot of his cowboy character from No Country for Old Men... over all, i don't doubt that 'W.' will have the effect Oliver Stone desired

gabriella said...

that is exactly correct. and wasn't it strange that in the midst of all of these "straight" characters, Condoleezza Rice was the only snl-like caricature? It almost made me wonder if the rest of it was intentionally sloppy...