Having spent his career documenting American post-Second World war history it was perhaps inevitable that Oliver Stone would want to make a film about George (Dubya) Bush. But the film feels more like a duty than a pleasure — work undertaken to “make the record”, to get printed on celluloid a representation of this at once ridiculous and very dangerously powerful man.
Well, how to tell the story without going over very old ground, without being yet another satire on Bush’s gaffes and Texan folksiness? Stone deals with the problem sensibly and competently by opting for a mix of psychological insight and great impersonations by the cast of Bush’s cronies — from the other-worldly Donald Rumsfeld to goody two-shoes Condoleezza Rice. Stone succeeds in making not a fascinating or surprising film, but an interesting and enjoyable one and on balance it’s a good thing that Stone didn’t go for his usual bombastic liberal condemnation.
Like many on the left, I suspect, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a film about George Bush, but the little bits of insight and fly-on-the-wall style drama made it worthwhile. For instance a scene between Blair and Bush, set in the run up to the Iraq war, was very funny. When Bush tells Blair some crackpot military tactic he has dreamt up, Blair struggles with his desire to be obsequious towards the 43rd President of the United States and his not-to-be-denied default snobbishness.
How did Bush get to be the 43rd President? Stone’s somewhat lightweight explanation of it, as a mix of accident, the power of Christian conversion and (mostly) nepotism, plays down the dirtiness of the American bourgeoisie’s way of doing politics.