Yet another curve ball is coming into play for the 2008 presidential election.
Oliver Stone’s "W" premiered last night in New York, and it’s a surprisingly levelheaded conjuring of the life and times of George W. Bush.
It’s no coincidence that Lions Gate is releasing it now, with just three weeks left before the election. As Barack Obama has tried to tie John McCain to Bush, "W" positions the president in a mostly negative light.
But the real success of "W" is that our current president comes off as sympathetic more often than not. Stone and his screenwriter, Stanley Weiser, do much to portray him as tortured son with a domineering father, a gullible lightweight who becomes almost a pawn in the hands of more demonic players.
President Bush, believe it or not, owes quite a bit to actor Josh Brolin. The actor transcends the kind of hokey caricature we’ve come to associate these kinds of movies. He is not Rich Little doing an imitation. Indeed, Brolin — who’s really turned into a top leading man — disappears into this man, George W. Bush and makes him real, human, and suddenly very interesting.
Likewise, the rest of the cast works hard to make their characters three dimensional. Elizabeth Banks makes Laura Bush that much more mysterious as we see her as a liberal young woman living in Austin, Texas — and then turning into the political wife. James Cromwell is fascinating as former President Bush — Bush 41 — as he and Brolin really make "W" a tragic father-son story. There are equally nuanced performances from Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush, Richard Dreyfus as Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, and Bruce McGill as George Tenet.
Particularly stunning is the casting of British actor Toby Jones as Karl Rove. The two men could not be more different physically. But Jones rises to the occasion admirably. And Thandie Newton draws instant gasps from the audience as Condoleezza Rice, a kind of court Rasputin who is shown enabling and guiding Bush into various deceptions and half-truths.
What you will find so interesting is that the "W" script is being published on Friday with annotations. The producers claim that every speech, every word uttered by their president was said by ours. It’s all public record. "There are two sources for each quote," one producer told me.
Of course, this makes it all the more jarring. When President Bush falters during a little known press conference, and is humiliated — it turns out the script from the actual transcript. I could feel the audience around me at the Ziegfeld Theater squirm in their seats.
What director Stone is saying throughout is, there’s a lot that’s gone we simply don’t know about. "W" is not a jokey, one shot deal. Stone and Weiser have made a serious movie here that sometimes more evenhanded than you might like.
"W" almost bends over backwards to give George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt. Watching him during the walkup to the Iraqi war, you almost want to shout, "No, stop, bad idea!" But it’s too late. It’s to Stone and Brolin’s credit that you want George W. Bush to succeed in spite of his father and his background.
At the dinner following the screening last night at the Metropolitan Club, Stone was happy to accept kudos from the cast, as well as loads of other actors who came to see his finished work including actors Marisa Berenson and Charles Keating, media heavyweights Harold Evans and Tina Brown, Dan Abrams, Men’s Health editor Dave Zinczenko, Catherine Crier, Jill Brooke, Miramax’s Daniel Battsek, "Gossip Girl" actor Matthew Settle, and so on.
Stone told me that during the making of the film, he actually came to feel sorry for George W. Bush. "As a dramatist," he said, "not as a voter." The movie, he agreed, plays more like a tragedy than a comedy.
The British newspaper The Sun is reporting this morning that Madonna and Guy Ritchie are announcing their divorce.
Of course, it’s being denied here in the U.S. But it’s not implausible. Ritchie is starting his "Sherlock Holmes" film in the U.K. Madonna is on her endless "Sweet and Sticky" tour. They aren’t together physically or geographically. Last summer’s rumors of her affair with Alex Rodriguez don’t help.
But in the meantime: What about poor little David Banda? Didn’t Malawi allow the Ritchies to adopt him into a nuclear family? Could this invalidate all that? Little David will then have a mother in New York, a father in London, a biological father in Malawi. Publishers circle the year 2023. That’s when David will be ready with quite a book about his life! ...
There’s a lot of big news in the exec shuffle in the entertainment biz. There’s word out of Sony that Andy Lack is negotiating his exit from the corporation and has a new, unannounced gig elsewhere.
Andy is one of those great guys who got caught in a mess when he left NBC News for Sony Music a few years ago. Basically, he was asked to be the bad guy and help downsize the company post-Tommy Mottola. When that was over, Andy moved over to make music-movies for Sony BMG. Now, that entity is kaput. Timing is everything. Wherever he’s going, the people there will be lucky to have him. …
Word from HBO that HBO Films president Colin Callender is leaving the cable studio after 21 years. Here’s a head-scratcher. Callender is responsible for HBO receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The movies he’s shepherded include the recent "John Adams" as well as "Recount," "Elizabeth I" with Helen Mirren, "Empire Falls," "Lackawanna Blues" — the list is endless.
My guess is that Callender will wind up running a movie studio in the next year. …