Im thinking of a number.

I'm thinking of a number.

All of us here have derided a film, at some time, for “not having a point.”  But what does that mean, exactly, and how does it relate to the quality of a film?  A film doesn’t need to contain some moral or get to some absolute truth, of course.  I suppose one could claim the incredibly awesome The Rocky Horror Picture Show is making a statement on the corrupting nature of power or how true love is like a good Meat Loaf, but it isn’t meant to teach a lesson.  Similarly, having a clear message does not guarantee a successful movie.  We all dislike Crash, but that surely was driving at something.  I didn’t much care for Babel or Million Dollar Baby, but those had well-defined agendas.

I don’t have a good answer to the question I posed above.  I can say, however, that W. didn’t have a point.  It made virtually no political statement, offered almost no insight into George W. Bush, and pretty clearly was not constructed with a goal of being entertaining.  Which isn’t to say anything about my enjoyment of the movie, just that I’m not entirely sure why the movie was made.

Ostensibly detailing the rise to power of George W., Stanley Weiser’s script is a muddle of moments cherrypicked to note various stages of W’s life.  Instead of a coherent story, the idea seems to have been to start with a checklist of the various phases of W’s life and make sure that a scene from each one was included.  If the movie was called S. and portrayed a fictional president, with fictional supporting players, I’d be fairly surprised to hear it associated with any awards buzz.

Indeed, the story here may be how so many of the actors seem to be impersonating the people they are portraying.  Or, rather, how the film seems so pleased with itself that it has name actors to play these well-known personas, you can almost hear Oliver Stone chuckle as, say, Richard Dreyfus goes through his lines.  Now, I don’t know the line between impersonation and acting.  Frankly, I don’t care.  But Weiser and director Oliver Stone go to great lengths to reenact certain moments of W.’s history, with perhaps a slight emphasis added (if only to reduce what was surely, say, a half hour meeting down to three minutes) and maybe successfully, but to what end?  For example, Stone lingers on Thandie Newton’s (and by the way, her last five screen credits for those keeping track at home?  W., RocknRolla, Run Fatboy Run, Norbit, and The Pursuit of Happyness) exaggerated impersonation of Condolezza Rice.  It doesn’t particularly advance the story, it isn’t comic relief, it doesn’t build tension.  No, it is more, “here’s a slightly ridiculous impersonation of Condi Rice.  Deal with it. <as the camera lingers on her a beat or two past the onset of awkwardness>” At times, it feels the filmmakers tried to paper over the script’s inadequacies by stuffing the film chock full of name actors in name roles.  But to quote the other Twain, that don’t impress me much.

If we are given a cud on which to chew during the movie, it is on W.’s relationship with his father, where the son rides a seesaw of being a screwup and then trying to fit in somewhere to gain respect from his dad (James Cromwell).  It is an interesting strain, sadly not given enough meat to support the rest of the movie.  Still, the scenes with the two are probably the best in the movie.  Not counting, naturally, any scene with Elizabeth Banks (as Laura Bush).

The film’s best chance for an Oscar is probably Josh Brolin, who currently has at least an outside shot at a nomination, it would seem.  An interesting thought is Thandie Newton for Supporting Actress, which Awards Daily sees as a possibility, at least.  Possibly because the category tends to be weakest (or at least that seems to be how it is trending for me, and feel free to insert comment about lack of roles for women here).  Again, is it easier or harder to act when your character is someone you are openly trying to mimic?  I don’t know, but Brolin does give a compelling performance.  In my mind, those on the left will wish he played Bush less sympathetically (and less intelligent) and those on the right won’t be satiated enough to not mock Oliver Stone.  And I think that’s a good balance to strike.  It is always hard to judge these things based only on the early films, but in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be a mistake to give Brolin a nomination.

The title of this post may be confusing.  (Not unlike the post itself.)  You see, W is easily one of the top 26 letters in the alphabet.  Sesame Street recognized this fact, and gave W a song, the video of which is below: