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W Poised to Hit Zeitgeist, But Will It?

by Anne Thompson
October 7, 2008 12:31 PM
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Joshbrolin_lLionsgate threw a party at the Landmark in Westwood Monday night for Oliver Stone's W, which was basically an intimate L.A. premiere for Stone and his cast; the movie will also premiere in New York and the Austin Film Fest. Josh Brolin soaked up the applause, flanked by his father and uncle; everyone agreed that he did a helluva job as George W. Bush, from Yale frat-party boy to reformed drunk and born-again Christian and one of the worst presidents in United States history. James Cromwell also scored big as Bush, Sr. in the father-son drama. Cast members Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, and Noah Wyle were also on hand, along with producers Bill Block and Moritz Borman.

Stone is rushing the $30 million movie (distributed by Lionsgate and financed by Block's foreign sales firm QED International, with $25-million in P & A backing from Omnilab Media) into the marketplace October 17, less than three weeks before the presidential election, betting that audiences are hankering for a sharp psychological profile of their departing president. More than ever though, as the world teeters on the brink of financial disaster, it's hard not to be very angry with Bush. And Stone's movie focuses on Bush's failures in Iraq, which are not center stage right now.

The movie is utterly plausible, well-acted by a top-notch ensemble (except for a too-broad Thandy Newton as Condoleeza Rice) and surprisingly balanced, compassionate and even-handed. Somehow the film lacks the urgency of its own making.

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"We started it in May and finished it this week, so we're pretty much on edge here," Stone told the crowd, which included Ellen Barkin, Casey Affleck, Phil Noyce, Jonah Hill, Maria Bello, Patrick Wachsberger, Andy Vajna, Jake Bloom, Irving Kershner, Bob Cooper, Jay Roach, CAA's Bryan Lourd, Doc O'Connor and Dan Aloney, James Woods, Al Pacino, Paul Haggis, and Bill Maher. "This is based on a true story. We actually did a lot of research to bring to life these murky things." Stone cited his reliance on the "raw body of material" of a dozen journalists, from Barton Gellman and Bob Woodward to James Risen, Michael Isikoff, Jane Mayer and Frank Rich. "There's more to come out," he said, "but enough here to start. Why make this movie? Where are we now as a country, and and where are we going? A large part of of that answer lies with this character, George Bush."

At the after-party, Stone admitted that he was walking a "tightrope" with W, because these are all well-known, real people. It's not satire, like Dr. Strangelove, which is "fiction, beautifully done," he said. "We couldn't go to Strangelove. We have Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. They have done that. We have to find credibility, we have to eventually care about him--not sympathize. I didn't like Nixon, but I was able to empathize with him. Bush is the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain now. All his policies are in place. We'll be dealing with this stuff for 20 years."

Maher's own Religulous is playing well to left-skewing audiences, write Pamela McClintock and Tatiana Siegel, who report on how polarizing political films are faring at the box office. Here's Todd McCarthy's review, and Peter Bart's take on the political film landscape.

Jeff Wells muses about W. So does David Poland. Stone opens up in GQ, talked in June to the LA Times, gave EW a cover story, and talked yesterday to Larry King on CNN:

Here's the trailer:

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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More: Marketing, Politics, Hollywood, Box Office

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