A cold fall weekend in Michigan. Get Out The Vote canvassing for Obama on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Paper grading. Pouring through a couple more episodes of The Wire Season 1 (for such a non-sentimental piece of work, the show almost choked me up when Keema got shot). Our niece Jenna spent the night on Saturday night. She didn't like Mongolian BBQ at all. What kid doesn't like to choose his/her own raw meat or fish and veggies and then watch college kids make your stir-fry while flipping huge, metal grill sticks and yelling uninteligible things? Seemed like a sure thing, but was a bust. Jenna did seem to like driving around our town to check out the Halloween decorations and going to see High School Musical 3.
I couldn't bring myself to watch HSM3 (and yet I can bring myself to type the abbreviation?) so while Jenna and Nicole dug on the musical I wandered next door at the multiplex and saw 'W,' the Oliver Stone pic about our current prez. W--the film that is--had no discernible point, no consistent vision, no sustained insights into W or his inner circle. W amounted to two hours of actors doing (mostly very good) impressions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. More an exercise in mimicry than a narrative or even a character sketch, the film was, in short, pretty bad.
Thandie Newton's performance as Condi Rice was bizarre. She just kind of sat there and quaked a little bit, neverously and robotically glancing around the room. She looked animatronic, like she belonged in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. Anytime I've seen her on television, Rice has looked confident and stoic, so the portrayal made no sense to me at all.
And I didn't think the film was a hatchet job on Bush either. At least a hatchet job would have had a clearer vision. The representation of W didn't strike me as skewed or distorted. If anything, it struck closely to a well-documented mythology of W that is very familiar to even casual observers of the political process. W. didn't do particularly well in college or in the business world. He drank way too much when he was in his 20s and 30s. He struggled to please his dad. He became an Evangelical Christian and fell in with a social movement bent on moving the GOP away from fiscal convervativism and toward a family values-driven agenda. He surrounded himself with more experienced folks and gave them more power than vice-presidents, cabinet secretaries, and deputy chiefs of staff usually have been given. If you haven't seen the film yet, I just ruined it for you. I left the theater with an overwhelming sense of "no shit, Sherlock."
I also left the theater wondering about the film's target audience. Lefties and Bush bashers? If so, I should have liked the film more. A heavier-handed or more salacious film--one that showed W doing hard drugs or foregrounded the illegalities of pre-emptive war and U.N. violations, for instance--would have had a more affective, rally-the-left-base relationship with its audience. Undecided voters as audience? Maybe, but I don't think anybody stuck in the middle of this presidential election would be swayed by anything in the film. There's little if any polemic. This isn't a Michael Moore film. The best comparison would be The Queen (about Queen Elizabeth II during the week that Princess Diana died), a much, much better film that managed to reveal something in the psyches of its main characters. In addition to containing more internal landscapes than W, The Queen also concerned itself with public figures who had enigmatic characteristics. By virtue of media exposure and scrutiny from the left as well as the superficial nature of his own personality and intellect, there's not much we don't know about W. There's nothing to peel back.