Saturday, October 25, 2008

To me, one of the most terrifying things in the world is the fact that a lot of Americans vote for their President based on whether they would like to have a beer with them or not. That certainly wouldn’t be my criteria. I want to vote for someone who’s far smarter than me, who has poise, who’s an excellent orator and who has lots of great ideas. I don’t want someone I could hang out with. I want a leader.

But still, in American politics, there persists this notion that the President should be an everyman (or everywoman). He or she should have the common touch. Fair enough, a President has to be able to connect with people, but with George W. Bush the notion has been taken too far. Yes, despite his persona, he’s far from a regular guy (coming from a wealthy family, having your daddy be a former President and going to Harvard will set you apart quite a bit from Joe Bloggs), but although he comes from a privileged background, he’s still a simple man. And that’s what makes his story both comic and frightening. In George W. Bush you can see the reflection of the ordinary citizen, the sort of person who while not mean-spirited or completely stupid, doesn’t understand subtlety or nuance. And as such, with Bush’s Presidency you see what happens when an empty shell of a person becomes the country’s leader. And what happens is chaos.

According to Oliver Stone’s enjoyable biopic, all George W. Bush wants is approval. He wants approval from his daddy and he wants approval from his voters. And that’s what’s so frightening about him. He doesn’t appear to be a wicked person. He just appears to be an opportunist, bouncing around a directionless life until he became President. And then when he gets there, he has nothing to do. Well, until 9/11 happens. Then he gets the chance to be a hero.

One of the recurring themes of the film is George W. standing in a baseball field raising his arms to an empty crowd. All he wants is applause and adulation. He wants the validation his father struggles to give him. So all the time, while in office, he’s trying to please the American voters. He’s trying to avenge 9/11 and he’s trying to protect its citizens. Therefore you have the Iraq war, Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Bush thinks that these are all wonderful things that are going to secure his legacy as a great guy. Little does he know that these things are choking his country.

The real villains of the piece are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They’re Bush’s puppet masters. They’re the ones who really control his policies.

There’s a wonderful scene about halfway through the film where Bush’s cabinet are discussing a potential war with Iraq. Everyone has their own ideas but then Dick Cheney (played by Richard Dreyfuss) presents a plan to oust Saddam’s regime so that America can gain possession of the oil fields. He says that if they control the supply nobody will fuck with them anymore. The scene is rather chilling in the greed and selfishness that is displayed by Cheney, and in the naivety that Bush shows. I really do think that he believed that he was going to make the world safer rather than make it more chaotic.

Another scene that sent a shiver down my spine is the one where Bush and Cheney talk about using torture. Bush wolfs down a sandwich and drinks from a glass with a large Presidential seal on it as they discuss whether it’s okay to torture US citizens. They decide that it is, if they believe they’re terrorists. And then Cheney argues that if you have a one percent doubt that an unfriendly country has nukes, you should act. The recklessness displayed is pure insanity, a point not lost on Oliver Stone who, in one scene, frames Bush in such a way to make him look like General Ripper in Dr Strangelove. The lunatics really are running the asylum.

But while I was impressed with Richard Dreyfuss’ performance as Dick Cheney, other performances fell flat on faces. Jeffrey Wright, while not awful, doesn’t look anywhere near old enough to be Colin Powell and his performance comes over as something of a mediocre imitation of the man. Then you have Ioan Gruffudd in a brief cameo as Tony Blair. He just isn’t smarmy enough. But the worst performance by far is turned in by Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. She plays her like a simpering retard. Newton is always doing this ridiculous face like she’s shitting her knickers and her voice is exaggerated so much that she becomes a caricature. It’s embarrassing.

Thankfully, though, at the centre you have a marvellous performance by Josh Brolin. When the production began, I thought the casting was ridiculous, but Brolin pulls everything off. He manages to make you recoil from the man yet feel sorry for him at the same time. His W. just wants to be liked. He wants to be patted on the back. And with Brolin in the role you get to see replays of famous speeches and incidents that never feel like they’re pure imitations. You really do feel like Brolin becomes George W. Therefore moments in time as shown in the film feel authentic. Just take the scene where George W. can’t give an answer for what he did wrong in Iraq. You really do feel his panic, as the man is briefly forced to deal with something that isn’t in the script.

And the script is what Bush desperately wants to follow. He wants an ending with a curtain call and with applause from everyone. I mean, at the end of Stone’s film we see Bush on a baseball field waiting to catch a ball that never comes back down to Earth. The man got us into a game he can’t finish and there’s no end in sight. Therefore W.’s neat ending is denied him. He won’t be the hero he desperately wants to be.

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