25 October 2008

Review: W.

Genre: Drama (Biopic) / Historical Fiction

Oliver Stone has for years now been inclined to present us with this kind of "searing 'Presidential' drama;" the kind that invariably seems to revolve between the stern close-up shots of its exasperated characters, frequently mid-argument, and the attemptingly explicatory Freudian backstories for those arguments in its tale-telling; you know, the kind of film that always presents in buzz before its release, because of its provocatively incendiary scenes and purportedly "behind-the-scenes" content, and then fizzles like released carbonation afterwards. No doubt, all that fervid shaking set loose the caught air. Now, for all this talk of fizzling and complexities in solution - which, I have no doubt, is an accurate metaphor for this, Mr. Stone's leader-bsed biographical work - there has been very little talk yet as to whether or not such pressurized bottles of films actually succeed, and this littleness is in major part, because there is little to no consistency in the thoroughness and oomph of the films in this biopic set. Just as it is difficult to predict how violently a shaken bottle of champagne will fire its cork and spurt its golden liquid, so it is a difficult matter to predict just how much power and lift the complete film of such intermingled incendiary and explosive argument-driven scenes will muster. For those films such as 1991's J. F. K. and 1995's Nixon, Mr. Stone has achived near geysers of appreciable pop; yet, equilaterally, for those films such as 2004's Alexander and 2008's W., the concomitant shudder is decidedly less impressive. Indeed, much like many of Mr. Stone's films of late, biographically or otherwise based, W. falls exceedingly short of the inital promises it pretended to us in its sneak-peeks, stolen scenes, and other trailer-esque matter. A film lacking sincerely in visual and textual cohesion and 'fillered' instead by the molass of tacky, skin-deep impersonations and political-pop-culture references, it is certainly one of the most disappointing fares of the season.
Now, I will not spend much more time dissecting and distinguishing, determining and decrying, deliberating and deciding the merits - or perhaps redemptions among the mire - of this odious film, but I will tackle in my greatest attempts at brevity three of the plural redresses I have made against it thus far in the review: those are, (1) the lack of visual cohesion, (2) the lack of textual cohesion, and (3) the skin-deep impersonations, all in order to paint a clearer, less subjective picture of what works and does not work in Mr. Stone's latest film. First, the lack of visual cohesion is primarily manifested by the awkwardness of the cinematography: It seemed, almost entirely, as if the film had no ocular legs on which to stand, so blunt, so unfigured, so unpremeditated, so static was the screen play. Fixing on those aforementioned close-up shots, lit by brash and often overpowering overheads that did noting to embellish the narrative, and utilizing one true-color, inflexible, in-focus lens and palette to capture both the fantasized and the realized sequences within the story, the given images failes to self-organize in any clear or competent structure; everything falls into one even and rankly boring plane, flat and true and overblown. In a story that seeks to investigate the alluring and vividly dramatic life of one of today's most notorious "celebrities," such perspectives are not only delimiting but moreover deleterious from the potential poignancy of the work; such a choice is bland. Second, the lack of textual cohesion further disorients and disarrays the tale from its viewer. Burdened by the fact that the subject of this biography (though fictional) is not only still alive but also still in residence in his celebritizing post, the screenplay was no doubt a taller order than were most of the director's earlier works. However, resting upon the fact that one is dealing with a life unfinished and a post undeparted and therefore discarding all sense of building control (but for the meager and consistenly present [aforementioned] Freudian ontology) are no ways to react. Instead of scrutinizing and exacerbating a strain on a relationship that may in fact be very little like what is envisioned here (i. e., in W.), one may have done better to play upon those many artifacts of the subject's life that are instead shuffled to the side (e. g., tensions with the surrounding players on his staff, domestic life with his wife and daughters, formative experiences as a child or even, later, at Yale), those little nuances and curves in personal history that were able to make those films like J. F. K. and Nixon so comparatively great. Eschewing them, the work reads like nothing more than its subject's "Greatest Hits," combined and compiled for easy access "for the first time ever!" [hyperbole injected]. Third, the skin-deep impersonations of the real identities portrayed did terribly little to advance the intentions of trajectory of the film, so little in fact that, though there were undoubtedly dedicately researched by those actors so griped to be playing them, they actively backpedal the legimatcy-reaching movement of the film in toto. Too briefly they were flitting upon the screen and too lightly touching the interwoven and intricate dynamics of the real relationships they simulate. Sufficing more to the beck and call of Saturday-Night-Live-like casual recreations than to the artistic demands of investigatory portraitism, they flounder and tip, to rend asunder the long battery of heavy-handed and by now stereotyped views their real-world personages in tow engender, and do so even under the minds of some of today's most promising performers. Ellen Burstyn, Josh Brolin, James Cromwell(!) all fumble, all start, all falter to gain their footings on that vague and inconsistent grounding and erect as results only crumbling effigies in shallow surroundings.
For all these flaws, W. proceeds with nary a single redeeming feature and so can only read 'awkward at best.'

Grade: D.

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