Blu-Ray Review: Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ Disappointing Film, Great Blu-Ray

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No votes yet Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – What happened to Oliver Stone? Despite strong performances by Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, and Elizabeth Banks, “W.” is one of the most inert, middle-of-the-road movies that this once-controversial auteur has ever made, helped on the home market by an excellent Blu-Ray release but still a little “eh” as a film.

The previews and advertising campaign for “W.” made it out to be a satirical jab at the most openly ridiculed President in the history of the United States. The satirical use of “What a Wonderful World” over footage of the last eight years and the tagline on the great posters - “A life misunderestimated.” - promised a no-holds-barred skewering by one of the best filmmakers of the last quarter-century.

W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Lionsgate

So why is “W.” so dull? The balance between the decisions that Stone and writer Stanley Weiser made that had a humorous angle - like recreating the infamous pretzel-choking incident - and the depressingly dramatic ones result in a film that too carefully walks the line. Stone and Weiser don’t find enough comedy in the story of the world leader who plunged a large section of the world into anarchy, but are clearly not interested in a straight-up drama either.

W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Lionsgate

The dramatic inertness of “W.” makes for one of Stone’s least powerful films. It’s still a decent movie because of the stellar ensemble and highly underrated lead, but it should have been great.

The lack of a narrative through line - most of “W.” plays like a greatest hits album of Bush moments from his first term - leaves Stone with nowhere to focus his passion. Whether you love him or hate him, Oliver Stone’s best work has always been a passionate filmmaker.

Stone and Weiser focus most of their piece on the days leading up to the war, especially the construction of the “Axis of Evil” speech, intercut with the more compelling story of a little boy lost always trying to impress his daddy. His early years are sketched out as a man who jumped from job to job and saw his family name as a burden more than a gift.

The scenes between George Sr. (James Cromwell) and his controversial son are easily the best in the film. We’ve all seen most of the dramatic beats of the White House material in “W.” but scenes like the one where his parents try to talk him out of running for Governor feel more refreshingly new. They are easily the strongest in the film.

The modern era material feels surprisingly underdeveloped, like a press secretary hitting key talking points but missing the meat of the story. I never felt like I was actually watching Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice, always remaining aware of the good impersonation by Richard Dreyfuss, better one by Jeffrey Wright, and downright awful one by Thandie Newton.

W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
W. was released on Blu-Ray on February 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Lionsgate

What is memorable about “W.” is in what Stone gets out of Josh Brolin and James Cromwell. These are two of the best performances of 2008 and it’s criminal how little Josh was mentioned in the Best Actor race. He’s better in this than Pitt in “Benjamin Button”. He gets underneath Bush’s skin, doing much more than an impression. A scene where he whines about his father giving him a gift because dad can only write kind words instead of saying them perfectly captures something about Dubya that hadn’t been before.

On one more positive note, master cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (“Walk the Line,” “Sideways”) shoots the film brilliantly. Like every Stone film, it looks great.

And it looks even better on Blu-Ray. Lionsgate is growing in the Blu-Ray market after releasing a few titles with excellent transfers including “The Midnight Meat Train” and “Saw V”. A studio that somewhat struggled last year in HD has moved to the forefront of the field with transfers that have very rich color palettes and crystal clear picture, even in the darker scenes.

“W.” is presented in 1080P with a perfect English 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio Track. A very good collection of special features include a commentary by Stone, “Dangerous Dynasty: The Bush Legacy,” “No Stranger to Controversy: Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush,” “W.” Filmmakers Research and Annotations Guide, deleted scenes with optional director commentary and the theatrical trailer.

A nearly flawless video and audio transfer and an excellent collection of special features. It’s starting to become a pattern with Lionsgate. If only the movie itself had lived up to expectations.

‘W.’ is released by Lionsgate Home Video and stars Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Toby Jones, Stacy Keach, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright. It was written by Stanley Weiser and directed by Oliver Stone. It was released on February 17th, 2009. It is rated PG-13
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