As the clock runs down on the Bush administration, director Oliver Stone will be making waves this fall with his biopic, “W.,” which chronicles George W. Bush’s rise from rowdy frat boy to leader of the free world. Stone, whose brief stint at Yale University overlapped Bush’s time there, is no stranger to presidential subject matter. He wrote, directed, and produced the movie “JFK” in 1991, and “Nixon” in 1995. But “W.” will be the first such film made before the president is even out of office.
Controversy about the movie, which was announced back in January, started early as several actors, studios, and distributors—even Major League Baseball—passed on having anything to do with the film. Even Josh Brolin, who eventually agreed to sign on to play George W. Bush himself, initially passed. Coming off of two critically acclaimed performances in “American Gangster” and the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men,” he rejected Stone’s pitch. But after reading the script, he found that the story wasn’t the “far-left hammering of the president” that he’d assumed it would be and signed on.
Any movie about a living president, let alone an active president, would cause a stir, but Oliver Stone is both a well-known opponent of the president’s politics and widely thought of as a provocateur. But to hear Stone tell it, he insists that he’s not out to kick the president—whose approval rating is hovering below 30 percent—while he’s down. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly earlier this year, Stone said, “I think history is going to be very tough on him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great story.”
The movie posits that George W. Bush’s driving forces are his complicated and sometimes adversarial relationship with his father and the long shadow cast by the Bush family legacy. Stone is impressed by Bush’s ambition and resilience in the face of such pressures, and recently told the The Los Angeles Times that the point of the film is “to walk in the footsteps of W and try to feel like he does, to try to get inside his head. But it’s never meant to demean him.”
Stone also points to those who may doubt the film’s accuracy that his writing partner, Michael Weiser, worked for over a year researching books and articles about the president. Even so, as with any biopic, the facts of the matter are up for interpretation, and if all goes according to plan, audiences will have the opportunity to offer theirs as early as October—just as the presidential candidates will be making one final sprint to the finish.
Will Stone be able to pull off the nearly impossible deadline? With time ticking, Stone oddly finds himself in a similar position as the sitting duck president as he tries to wrap up what he started as best he can before the clock runs out.
Reel Progress is the progressive film series sponsored by the Center for American Progress. Since March of 2005, the Center has hosted free screenings open to the public in DC and around the country. These screenings are followed by provocative panel discussions with leading policy experts, actors and filmmakers. We aim to advance a progressive agenda through innovative films that connect the arts to campaigns for social change and progressive public policy.