A Fable Of Fallibility

In a most inopportune way, Oliver Stone came out with a biopic of the last POTUS in the last year of his office. And as much as Oliver Stone’s pictures intrigue me for their bombast and over-reaching claims, I couldn’t bring myself to put myself through this movie in the cinemas. Bottom line, the story of 2008 was Barack Obama, The GFC, and how the Neo-Con vision for the future all turned to shit, and everybody could see it – except the usual cabal of micro-cephalic right-wingers.

Bottom line for me as a paying audience was that I really didn’t want to go over the GW Bush presidency all over again just to understand why it was such a faulty presidency. Nevertheless, Oliver Stone was making a film that was perhaps a little too soon, rather than a little too late.

What I’ll talk about here is all under the caveat that Oliver Stone and his researchers have gotten their facts about 85% right. I am totally open to the possibility the accuracy is much lower, but in order to discuss the film, you sort of have to take on board the claims at face value.

What’s Good About It

It’s a film that helps us understand how we were in the grips of an idiot in the White House for 8 years. Eight Years! EIGHT FUCKING YEARS!

It’s a bit like picking at a recently formed scab, where the itch is the worst. You come to realise the serious intellectual and conceptual limitations of the people involved. If George W Bush is an overly eager frat boy who simplified everything into silly little dichotomies, the people surrounding him seem equally maxed out on the Peter Principle scale.

There’s nobody in the room smart enough to frame the issue properly. Collin Powell, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, are all insufficient to the proper task of combating the terror threat, as George W Bush eagerly marches into Iraq, convinced of the long term benefits. Worse still, Dubbya is making fundamental assumptions about people and faith and ignoring what is known in order to bring his vision to fruition.

He is so pathetic when it all unravels, you feel sorry for the guy – which is as Oliver Stone intended, whatever that is worth – and that is a weird feeling. Considering just how much he fucked up the world, it seems weird we feel sympathy for how much he fucked up his own presidency. And this is without considering the GFC.

The performances in this film are marvelous. Brolin’s W., Cromwell’s Bush Snr, Toby Jones’ Karl Rove, Elizabeth Banks’ Laura Bush are all great portrayals – especially considering the real figures are so fresh in our minds.

What’s Bad About It

Some of the scenes where they discuss policy remain deeply unconvincing. We get the arguments and we get the direction of the rhetorical positions of Cheney and Powell and Rumsfeld, but because they’re telescoping the story down to the bare essentials, they sort of miss the nuanced, very subtly inflected polemic that was at the heart of the Iraq invasion.

I mean, I get the ideas and what Oliver Stone wants to tell us about Oil and Iran and geopolitics, but these scenes are so ham-fisted you think was the world really given to such nincompoops to drive into the ditch? Was this really the tenor of these meetings?

I guess I’m left incredulous and this is why I think this is a bad aspect of the film. But I can’t offer how it might have really gone, so I don’t really know; and in the absence of that knowledge, maybe Stone’ version of it is as good as it can be. Shame it looks like a parody of the war room scene in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ – and heaven only knows we’ve seen a tonne of those over the years.

I don’t want to be mean about it, but Thandie Newton’s Condoleeza Rice was the second weakest portrayal next to the dude who played Tony Blair. The problem for Newton however is that you never stop seeing Newton enough to see Rice, whereas Brolin’s Bush is so good, you see GW right there as we know him.

What’s Interesting About It

The amount of importance attached to faith by the characters is noteworthy. The film spends a lot of time talking about Bush’s faith and it’s understandable that it does, given what a born-again Christian GWB was. The creepiest type of Christians are the most zealous ones, and we see that zealousness in abundance.

Then there is the depiction of Tony Blair as somebody who was motivated by his own conversion towards Catholicism which motivated his riding shotgun with GW Bush right into the Iraq fiasco.

There’s also a argument to be made (and is hinted at in the film) that the world might have been a better place had GW Bush become Baseball Commissioner instead of Bud Selig. it might have fucked up MLB, but it would not have killed so many people.

Bud Selig’s tenure has been *interesting* to say the least, but I can imagine GW Bush as commissioner being a bit more helpful, bit more decisive, bit more quick on the draw with respect to PEDs and what have you. And no war in Iraq.

The film also wastes no time on the 2000 election which may or may not have been stolen in Florida. That’s an interesting choice given how dodgy GW Bush’ ascension was in the first place; but it also frees the film up to investigate the actual agenda carried in to the White House by George W. Bush and how it went all awry.

Like a lot of Oliver Stone’s films, this one is deeply thought-provoking and leaves a lasting impression. I have to say I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Dubya, Jeb And Dad

The singularly interesting thing about the dynamic between bush Snr and Jnr is the amount of disdain Dad has for his son. This is a disdain that seems to stem back decades and just might not be spent.I always assumed that the rise of GW Bush was a Bush family push to re-mount a second Bush term as such; but the film indicates that Bush Snr placed much more faith in Jeb and not W. Indeed,the Bush Snrs. try to talk W out from running for Governor of Texas, which is an interesting scene.

It’s really hard to get a handle on George Snr.’s legacy because the man himself is strangely opaque. Interviews with the man yield remarkably banal observations, and his record essentially stands on war, whether it is his service during WWII or the war with Panama and the first Gulf War.He only went one term because his term was like an appendix to the Reagan administration – yet he was a very important President as time has shown.

The intractable Freudian struggle W. is forced to endure with George Bush Snr. thus may have been the greatest tragedy of our time. And I have to admit that I was largely unaware of how much of a gap existed between the two men. It may be the case that Jeb was always the better Presidential candidate but we may never get to find out thanks to W’s legacy. There’s something very strange about that dodged bullet.

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Filed under Cinema, Film, General, Movies

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