The American aphorism that suggests 'any boy can grow up to be president' is blandly dramatised in Oliver Stone's outrageously timed film, the first biopic to consider the life story of a sitting US president. Fresh from his deadly pursuit by Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men, Josh Brolin steps into the gap wisely left by the departing Christian Bale to play George W Bush Jr, a hard-drinking fratboy who, after flirtations with sporting goods and the oil business, somehow ends up leading his country into a war to appease his father, played by James Cromwell.
Restlessly flicking back and forward from Bush's first term in office to pivotal moments in his upbringing, Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser have constructed an entertaining but toothless account of George W Bush as president, cowboy and man. Never stooping to imitation, Brolin gives an admirably charismatic portrayal of Bush, but Stone's serio-comic tone is coarsened by the opportunistic casting of guest stars, with Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, an impish turn from Toby Jones as Karl Rove and a trite one from Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. Such broad strokes ultimately detract from Stone's attempts to get under the skin of his subject, not helped by his uncharacteristically coy skirting around issues such as Bush's response to the 9/11 attacks. Crucially Stone also presents Bush's decision to go to war as motivated by his belief that chemical weapons were involved, fashioning W. as a half-hearted apology.
Stone's take on George W never rises to the controversial heights of his other political forays in JFK or Nixon. And despite Brolin's powerhouse performance, Stone's puffed-up biopic eventually abandons beating around the Bush to give birth to a timid mouse of an idea that most satirists would find too obvious for a satirical newspaper cartoon never mind a two hour plus movie; all Junior ever wanted was a little sugar from daddy.
General release from Fri 7 Nov.