As a political document, Oliver Stone's W. feels a bit dated. Maybe it's that this country, and its politics, have been treating our president like a has-been for more than a year now; light-hearted cinematic indictment feels a lot less urgent when you know the object of the indictment has mostly checked out.
But primarily it's that the audience, if they are political beings, has heard it all before. Far too frequently, W. comes across as if it lifted its script directly from an old Maureen Dowd column—you know, the kind in which she writes a fictional scene and offers dialogue, set inside the White House or on the campaign trail, that archly describes what liberals imagine is happening anyway. Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) pulling the puppet strings. Rove (Toby Jones) acting like a detestable troll. Colin (Jeffrey Wright) and Condi (Thandie Newton) getting steamrolled by the neocons. The president (Josh Brolin) being too ill informed and feckless, for the most part, to notice. By failing to move past the Dowd satire—and the pop-psychology orthodoxy that posits Bush as suffering from a losing combination of untreated alcoholism, delusions of grandeur, and a serious Oedipus complex—W. ends up feeling like déjà vu.
On top of that, the movie essentially ends at the Iraq War. Yes, that war is, and will be, the defining mistake of Bush's first term, but by ending there, Stone contributes to the dated feeling of the film. Nothing about Katrina. Very little about FISA, the PATRIOT Act, or torture. Nothing about the financial crisis (yes, the financial crisis of the last month would have been nearly impossibility to include in a film released October 17, but its notable absence points up Stone's hubris in making a picture about Bush's two terms before they're even over).
It's hard to say for sure how liberals, who are certainly Stone's intended audience, will react to this movie. A lot of them probably can't get enough of seeing Bush mocked and deconstructed, and will therefore love this. But a good number of them, one suspects, will be bored—they'll go in wanting a new, revelatory way of seeing the president and come out having had a few good chuckles amid one long, familiar, flashback that they're very ready not to have happen again.