Too late (or too early), too little, too restrained. These were my first feelings after watching Oliver Stone's “W.” his much-anticipated biopicture of our current president, George W. Bush.

“W.” world premieres at the London Film Festival, in the Galas section, and will be released by Lionsgate stateside October 17, 2008.

Despite a strong, compelling and entertaining turn from Josh Brolin, as both the younger and older President Bush, “W.” is too brief and sketchy to qualify as a comprehensive chronicle of the 43rd President of the U.S. For example, the movie ignores entirely the debacle and controversy of the 2000 Elections, and it ends around 2004. Moreover, the omission of Bush's second terms from the melodrama is inexcusable, as Bush may go down in history books as the least popular president we have had.

The second, and more significant problem is its approach or tone, which is too restrained and solemn to qualify as a social or political satire, in the way that Michael Moore's docu “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a more illuminating feature, was.

Then there's the issue of the casting, with several thespians merely impersonating, rather acting, the real-life characters they play. This is particularly the case of Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush and Thandie Newton as Condi Rice.

Finally, “W.” looks like a TV movie, with moderate production values (by Stone's standards), which may be a combined result of the film's relatively small budget (it's an indie) and the fact that the movie was rushed into production to make its deadline, namely, be seen about two weeks before the November Presidential Election.

“W.” takes viewers through Bush's eventful life, his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course, the critical days leading up to his decision to invade Iraq and the aftermath, when it became clear that he was manipulated, by various informational sources and people. The villains of the piece are expectedly Dick Cheney (well played by Richard Dreyfuss) and Donald Rumsefeld (unconvincingly played by Scott Glenn who may be miscast).

As a film, “W.” represents a passable entertainment, one that's easy to take and be moderately engaged in. However, lacking real bite and criticism, and mostly rehashing facts that are known about Bush fils' earlier life, Stone's new work is not strong enough to occupy the Op-Ed pages or stir controversy among viewers. (The film may be preaching to the converted, and I doubt if anyone would change his or her mind after seeing it).

This is Stone's third (and weakest) biopic of a U.S. President, following “J.F.K” (1991), which both benefited and suffered from its central thesis of conspiracy and paranoia, and “Nixon” (1995), the best of the trio, which presented a rather sympathetic view of Richard and Pat Nixon (well played by Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen) and unfolded as a Greek tragedy.

Despite differences in strategy, narrative structure, artistic quality, and overall impact, all three biopics, and particularly “W.,” are imbued by a blatant Freudian psychology, here manifest in the painful, endless conflicts between father and son, Bush pere and the always disappointing son Bush fils, who can do no right. “W” descends to the level of farce in at least two scenes, when the duo is about to engage in a fistfight mano-a-mano! Overall, “W.” film feels like a sketch or skeleton for a fuller, deeper in insights melodrama, and Stone would have perhaps benefited as a provocative filmmaker if he were to make the picture several years or even a decade after the Bush¬ís regime, about to be over in three months.

Unlike “J.F.K.” and “Nixon,” which were handled from a more distant and detached perspective, “W.” may suffer from the fact that Bush and his team of aides and secretaries are still around. This angle also works against the way that audiences will perceive and evaluate the large cast of characters, all played by estimable thespians, though half of which are too narrowly defined.

To be fair, Stone, working from a screenplay by Stanley Weiser, refuses to prejudge Bush or turn him into an easy target of jokes. In many segments, especially the flashbacks, which are interspersed with the main scenario about the before and after Iraq War, the treatment is fair and balanced. Stone seems to be going for a docudrama style in describing our president as a Yale and then Harvard graduate, a sometimes Texas oilman, a heavy drinker and womanizer, and most problematic and least convincing of all, a truly Evangelical convert, a Born Again man who, according to the film, believed that it was his “calling” to lead the nation.

Considering his background, George W. Bush became the President of the United States against all odds, against the wishes of his own family, his parents, George and Barbara Bush (played by James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn) as well as brother, Jeb Bush, the family's favorite son, advisers, and even friends.

Stone's drama revolves around one central question: How did this improbable character, long considered the black sheep of his esteemed family, The 200-year-old Bush clan, transform himself into the leader of the Free World

The saga begins and ends symmetrically, framing Bush in a close-up against an empty Texas stadium. Stone and Weiser have divided the story into three parts, anchoring some fiction in what seems essential a fact-based tale. Act One describes the seeds of Bush as a young, rebellious, man, a failure at all enterprises–until the age of 40, when he turns it around.

The second act comes off his conversion to Evangelicalism, his turnaround in his personal habits, the imposition of a ferocious willpower. He becomes a baseball team owner, and then a two-term governor of Texas, and for a period of time, he projects an image of bipartisanship.

The third and conclusive act is his presidency, but it doesn't cover the whole eight years, instead concentrating on the beginnings, focusing on the crucial era, between October 2001 and March 2003, when Bush was finally persuaded to attack Iraq with gusto and personal sense of revenge.

Bush's up-and-down-and up odyssey is not presented in a linear, progressive way. If my notes are accurate, there are about a dozen flashbacks of Bush's earlier life, starting in 1966, when he was 20, and then jumping around to the early and late 1970s and the 1980s.

Despite their speculative nature, the past episodes are more interesting and illuminating (and more entertaining) than the present, 2001-2003, which occupies about half of the two-hour film. Problem is, these chapters describe facts and myths that are mostly known to the public from the other mass media, newspaper, TV and so on.

What's undeniable–and this may have been the reason why Stone chose the project–is that “W.” is a profoundly and uniquely American story, a tale that stresses that everything and anything is possible in the U.S.

As interpreted by Josh Brolin, who carries the entire picture on his robust shoulders, and walks with a cowboy's (John Wayne is the model) swagger, Bush comes across as a tormented youngster, who wrestled with his personal and familial demons, always feeling, and led to feel, in the long shadow of his father.

According to Stone, Bush's transformation was genuinely religious, when at the precise age of 40, he found God and made an incredible turnaround that ultimately led him to the White

Cast George W. Bush – Josh Brolin Laura Bush – Elizabeth Banks Barbara Bush – Ellen Burstyn George Sr – James Cromwell Dick Cheney – Richard Dreyfuss Donald Rumsfeld – Scott Glenn Karl Rove – Toby Jones Earle Hudd – Stacy Keach George Tenet – Bruce McGill Condi Rice – Thandie Newton Colin Powell – Jeffrey Wright Tony Blair – Ioan Gruffudd Don Evans – Noah Wyle Paul Wolfowitz – Dennis Boutsikaris General Tommy Franks – Michael Gaston Joe O'Neill – Brent Sexton Kent Hance – Paul Rae Ari Fleischer – Rob Corddry Fran – Marley Shelton Speechwriter #1 – Colin Hanks Jeb Bush – Jason Ritter


A Lionsgate release of a Lionsgate, Omnilab Media, QED Intl. presentation of a Moritz Borman/Ixtlan production. Produced by Bill Block, Borman, Eric Kopeloff, Paul Hanson. Executive producers, Albert Yeung, Thomas Sterchi, Elliot Ferwerda, Johnny Hon, Teresa Cheung, Tom Ortenberg, Christopher Mapp, David Whealy, Matthew Street, Peter Graves. Co-producers: Ethan Smith, Suzie Gilbert. Co-executive producer: Jon Kilik. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay, Stanley Weiser. Camera: Phedon Papamichael. Editor: Julie Monroe. Music: Paul Cantelon. Production designer: Derek Hill. Art directors: John Richardson, Alex Hajdu. Set designer: Gregory Van Horn. Set decorator: Mel Cooper. Costume designer: Michael Dennison. Sound: John Pritchett; supervising sound editor, Wylie Stateman; re-recording mixers, Gary Summers, Michael Keller. Casting: Halley Finn.

MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 130 Minutes.