In his review this week of W., the Voice‘s own J. Hoberman dissects the shortcomings of Oliver Stone’s latest POTUS opus, noting that it is “a film full of cartoon characterizations”—as if a movie about George W. Bush’s first term could be anything else. By the standards of domestic psychodrama, W., which opens tomorrow, is nothing special, just another way for Stone to work out his career-long fascination with Oedipal conflict. (The notorious mano-a-mano incident, in which our titular drunken dauphin challenges his old man to a fistfight in the family living room, is shot in the director’s signature tilted camera angles). But in the moments when Stone lightens up and gives way to “cartoon characterizations,” W. becomes an infectious black comedy, recalling classic war room farces like Dr. Strangelove or The Waltz Invention, Vladimir Nabakov’s little-read play about The Bomb.
The funniest scenes in W. are those in which the president and his inner circle plan—well, sort of—for the Iraq War. I think Brolin is considerably better than Hoberman does, but my favorite of these Toons is Thandie Newton’s Condoleeza Rice. Newton could easily have relied on Rice’s gap-toothed smile to convey her character’s vapidity, but instead the actress uses her eyes, which are larger and more expressive than the peepers belonging to the actual former National Security Adviser, now Secretary of State. Newton plays Rice as the kingdom’s ultimate sycophant, and if nothing else, it’s great fun in W. to search for her in the frame while others are talking, to see what kind of new head-bobbing way she’s found to show her complete and utter agreement.—Benjamin Strong