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WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG/BLOG Our special blend of insight, analysis, and wit is now available in daily doses. Observer editors, staffers, and bloggers are posting regular reports online about Texas politics, news, and culture. Bush Sr. looks almost troubled by of the novel Rio Ganges. In the following scenes, Bush does most of the pouring himself. We see him in a dark Midland honky-tonk, downing beers, proposing marriage to a good old girl \(who doesn’t seem to be modeled on the Rice student to whom Bush actuacross the bar top, producing a powerful Urban Cowboy flashback in the process. We see him quit an oil-rig job so he can go to town and get a drink. We see him embracing his best friend, Jack Daniels, in a number of social settings, from the barbecue where he meets the lovely but way to his well-lubricated 40th birthday party, after which he decides he’s finally had enough to drink. Interspersed are other scenes from the 1960s and ’70s that show Bush dealing with the long shadows cast by his parents and younger brother Jebthe smart one. The future president essentially wails throughout: “Dad always liked you best.” Brolin, who last year was absolutely convincing as an unlucky, deer-hunting Vietnam vet in No Country for Old Men, here gives us a George W. Bush who can express himself only in verbal clichs and painfully uptight body language. Yet he retains a wounded and pitiable human corea core that’s been squelched into a Shrub rather than a Bush \(as Molly Brolin’s Bush that seems rooted in something deeper than parental disapproval. \(The film doesn’t deal with Bush’s early childhood, but Stone might have squeezed some insight out of the death from leukemia of Bush’s 3-year-old sister, Robin, when he was 7. He hadn’t even known she was sick, and apparently wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral. According to some accounts, his parents played golf the next day, no doubt in an There’s no need to recount the plot. The film ends before the 2004 election as the world comes to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Everyone already knows that story, which Stone plays straight. The film largely stands and falls on the skill with which Stone and his firstrate cast show us what we already know Richard Dreyfuss’ conniving Dick Cheney is just shy of Strangelovian in the scene showing the case for war being laid out for Bush. Scott Glenn’s Donald Rumsfeld signals his lack of concern for the suffering of U.S. troops by smiling contentedly while digging into a slice of pecan pie. Jeffrey Wright’s Colin Powell doesn’t have quite the gravitas that the original projectshis voice is perhaps a little too soft. The moment when he, the lone voice of reason, capitulates to Cheney and Rummy and signs on to the invasion falls a little flat. \(He does later deliver a satisfying “fuck you” to the preening, bullying Elizabeth Banks’ Laura Bush is a missed opportunity For all the film suggests about the hard-to-explain chemistry between Bush and his book-loving wife, Stone could have simply edited that story line out. Their relationship is one of the areas where the director can’t resist cheap shots. Bush sits on the trapper, wiping his ass, while discussing world events with his wife. After the WMD revelations, she tries to cheer him up with tickets to Cats. The two characters and performers at the heart of the story are Brolin as W. and James Cromwell as his father. Bush Sr. isn’t exactly presented as a great man. One of the first times W. earns his father’s approval is when he shows him the Willie Horton ad that W. and Lee Atwater have devised. the dark forces he’s about to unleash in American politics, but he seems more concerned that the mud he’s about to sling not stick to him personally. Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Cromwell’s Bush Sr. as he tries to deal with his black-sheep son. Poppy does refuse to grovel for the evangelical vote. Bush Sr. plays politics as a dirty game, but unlike his son, he has a sense of who he is apart from politics. His son doesn’t. He is an almost completely political animal. According to Stone, it’s this limitation that brings Bush literally crashing to earth. Stone’s most fanciful idea is that Bush finally does realize he’s in far over his head. He may not feel sorry for wounded soldiers and dead Iraqis, but he’s brokenhearted, not to mention panic-stricken, for himself. Stone imagines a George W Bush who, behind locked doors or in the middle of a nightmare, realizes he’s lost his father’s respect forever. He’s driven to terrified screams. Out jogging, trying to lose himself in his own sweat, W. collapses and looks up, dazed, into the penetrating eye of a God who knows his every secret. A God who knew, all along, that there were no WMDs in Iraq. If only Bush had asked God, instead of Dick Cheney. Houston writer David Theis is the author OCTOBER 31, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25