ith less than two weeks to go before we elect a new president, what better time to look back at our current president - which is what Oliver Stone attempts to do with his latest film “W.,” a look at the rise of George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, the film lacks the sizzle of its subject - Stone delivers a rather bland, middle-of-the-road bio pic. The film reminded me a lot of another Stone bio misfire, “The Doors.” Like that film, “W.” does a great job of recreating the era of its subject, but it lacks any substance.
“W.” shifts back and forth between key moments in Bush’s dealing with the Iraq war and his struggles as a young man trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
There are some intriguing incidents that work in the film - the highlight meeting between Bush (Josh Brolin) and his staff right before the initial occupation of Iraq - but most of the film is meandering moments that don’t really divulge any insight into the current president (except to suggest an Oedipus Rex-like relationship between the young Bush and the elder Bush, played by James Cromwell, in which W. wanted to prove to his father he was just as good as his brother, Jeb).
To its credit, the cast keeps the film interesting. Brolin is dead on as the younger Bush, while Cromwell may not look like the elder Bush, but he gives a commanding performance that is quite impressive.
Richard Dreyfuss has some good moments as Vice President Dick Cheney, while Thandie Newton is unrecognizable as Condoleezza Rice.
The good acting is wasted in a film that tries too hard to play it safe. Stone has made no secret about his political views, and Bush is the kind of topic you think the longtime director should have a field day with.
If perhaps Stone had taken a more satirical approach (like the trailers suggest), then “W.” could have worked. Instead it’s a film that, despite its high profile, should be an afterthought by the time election day rolls around.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” (B-), the underappreciated family film that managed to slip in and out of multiplexes virtually unnoticed.
“Kittredge” may lack the fanfare (and box office receipts) of its fellow family films, but it proves to be an interesting experience that should please its target audience.
Based on a popular doll line known as the American Girl, the film tells the story of Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin from “Little Miss Sunshine”), a young girl living in Cincinnati at the start of the Great Depression who wants nothing more than to be a reporter for the local paper.
But Kit’s dreams and aspirations are abruptly interrupted when her father (Chris O’Donell) loses his car dealership and heads to Chicago to try to find work.
That leaves Kit and her mother (Julia Ormond) left to manage on their own - opening their home to an assortment of boarders that includes a free-spirited dancer (Jane Krakowski), a magician (Stanley Tucci) and a mobile librarian (Joan Cusack).
At first, the arrangement appears to be enough to keep Kit’s family above water financially, but when Kit’s mom and the boarders become the latest victims in a series of robberies, Kit and her friends set out to track down the culprit and recover the stolen money.
I’m not exactly sure what studio executive thought a kids movie aimed at girls and set in the Depression Era would be a box office success, but that doesn’t mean “Kittredge” doesn’t succeed artistically.
Breslin is a spunky young actress who is a perfect fit for the free-spirited Kit. Tucci, Cusack and Wallace Shawn, as a newspaper editor, are just a few members of a quality ensemble cast that doesn’t try to play down to its audience.
Director Patricia Rozema, whose previous work includes the Jane Austen adaptation “Mansfield Park,” has a keen eye for the period and does a nice job of recreating an era that the target audience probably knows little about.
I’m not sure if this is a film that will interest anyone who isn’t a girl age 13 or under, but it certainly won’t bore.