A man stands in the middle of a sunny baseball field, beaming a smile as the roar of an approving crowd is heard.
An echoing announcer's voice calls out his name: "Ladies and gentlemen, the 43rd president of the United States …" But as the camera pans back, the cheering fades, and the stadium is revealed to be empty.
With outstretched arms and raised head, the character's body forms an unmistakable symbol: W.
It's the opening scene of Oliver Stone's movie of the same name, which he is still racing to finish in time for its debut Oct. 17. Stone chronicles the youth of George W. Bush, his rise to the White House and the crises he has faced over the past eight years. And it's a comedy.
Though dramatizing culture and politics is familiar ground for the director of JFK, Nixon and World Trade Center, this film's satiric tone is something new for him. Not that he thinks the actual history is funny.
"It was so painful for me. The reaction is to laugh a little because the pain would be too much," he says, sitting in his office after showing the first act of the movie in his editing bay.
The baseball stadium intro?
"We all have retreat fantasies," Stone says with a laugh. "He did have the express desire to be baseball commissioner, and I think some people, historically, would say if he had become baseball commissioner, it would have saved us a lot of problems."
Cast of big names
"W." features an all-star cast playing the White House's highest-profile figures: Josh Brolin as the president, Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Cheney, Jeffrey Wright as Secretary of State Colin Powell, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush.
Stone, an outspoken liberal, Vietnam War veteran and longtime cinematic provocateur, is not an admirer of the president. And he's prepared to be dismissed by Bush die-hards.
But he insists he and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (who also wrote 1987's Wall Street with him) "tried to stay human and true to this man. It's supposed to be a fair and true portrait. People get me confused with my outspoken citizen side, but I am a dramatist first and foremost."
He already has been criticized by the administration. White House assistant press secretary Emily Lawrimore told the Los Angeles Times last month that the president would ignore the movie. "Oliver Stone is an accurate historian like Gilligan was an accurate navigator," she said.
But Stone also says those with an extreme dislike of the president will be disappointed if all they want from "W." is an attack.
"I'm not interested in that radical 15% that hate Bush or the 15 to 20% who love Bush. That's not our audience. Those people probably won't come," he says. "I'm interested in that 60% in the American middle who at least have a little more open mind."
The movie portrays Bush as charming, spiritually devout and well-intentioned but also reckless, a kind of daddy's boy, always relying on his father, wealthy friends or Bush family connections to launch his career forward or extract him from trouble. He's also depicted as overly trusting.
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