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Stars: Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Dreyfuss, Jesse Bradford, Dennis Boutsikaris, Charles Fathy, Michael Gaston, Allan Kolman, Jason Ritter, Noah Wyle

Director: Oliver Stone

Stone has been lucky, since Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States provides an appropriate conclusion to his frequently tendentious biopic of Texan George W Bush which, flashing backwards and forwards from a key cabinet meeting in the Oval Office to scenes of Bush’s early life, through fraternity initiation at Yale, via various dead end jobs and dedicated drinking to cleaning up his act and, after running his father’s Presidential campaign, making it to the White House himself.

With JFK, Nixon and now W, Stone seems to see himself as Presidential celluloid biographer in residence. He co-wrote JFK and Nixon himself, but here uses Stanley Weiser’s occasionally (but not frequently enough) humorous screenplay to construct an initially interesting but ultimately boring history lesson redeemed, in large measure, by Brolin’s award-worthy portrait of George W and by Cromwell’s equally potent performance as George Bush Sr. (Cromwell, first famous as talking porker Babe’s owner, seems to be out to corner the market in playing famous living persons, having been amusing as Prince Philip in The Queen).

Other casting, notably Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Wright (who was American spy Felix Leiter in Quantum of Solace) and Dreyfuss, as an eerie, scary Dick Cheyney, is excellent and Jones makes what he can of Republican strategist Karl Rove. Welcome comic relief is briefly provided by miscast Gruffudd’s embarrassing turn as Tony Blair. Burstyn and Banks are competent in relatively minor roles.

Obviously Stone believed in a project that adds one more movie to his Presidential biopic. What a pity, then, that W ultimately emerges as well-made, well-intentioned but tedious fare.

Alan Frank

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Colour by deluxe.
129 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 06 Nov 2008