In one scene, Cheney presents him with an executive order authorizing "enhanced interrogation techniques" of detainees. The president approves the idea but warns, "Just remember, though, we don't use torture in this country." He then doesn't want to read a long report with the details, tosses the document on the table and says, "Only three pages. Good!"
Dreyfuss' Cheney manipulates the president through praise and whispered asides, and his presence is always looming. At one point, Bush lashes out for upstaging him during a national security meeting, though Cheney hardly said a word.
"I think Cheney gamed him and gamed the whole system. Cheney is a brilliant player," Stone says. He adds that the recent book "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" by Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman backs up the depiction.
Along with the public record, a host of books provided background. Stone rattles off a list: Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," James Risen's "State of War," Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine," Stephen Mansfield's "Faith of George W. Bush," Bill Minutaglio's "First Son," about his early years.
Stone also read Kitty Kelley's "The Family," a gossip-heavy account of the Bush family, for insight into the father-son dynamic but did not include the book's allegation that the president, who has acknowledged that he had a drinking problem, once used cocaine.
"We didn't have to take cheap shots, and we didn't want to be malicious. We're very careful. We didn't want to go over the line," Stone says, though he acknowledges sometimes tiptoeing perilously close.
In a scene set in the early 1970s, before Bush was married, he is confronted by his father, who asks about a rumor that a girlfriend may be pregnant.
Stone notes the character emphatically denies it ("That's a dang lie, Poppy!"). Despite the character's refutation, it's clearly a "Do you still beat your wife?" kind of jab.
"Some of this stuff is not specific," Stone acknowledges. He says he plans to create a website with footnotes explaining either the source or the rationale for such controversial moments.
Reputation as a radical
Even so, many are bound to disregard "W." simply because of the filmmaker's reputation.
"Stone is seen as such a left-wing radical by everyone on the right that the danger is people dismiss this film immediately as just Oliver Stone trying to ruffle our feathers," says Syracuse University film professor Kendall Phillips, author of "Controversial Cinema: The Movies That Outraged America." "But he's good at getting under everybody's skin. He has consistently been able to push the right button to set people off on both the right and left."
New York Post film critic Kyle Smith, who often writes about political themes in movies, says Stone has little credibility with those right of center. "I think Oliver Stone, if he directed your kid's kindergarten school play, he would turn it into a demented fever dream about the failure of American ideals," Smith says. "I expect the movie to be totally demented, and around the bend, and I look forward to it. It will be entertainingly ridiculous."
Stone's reputation is a mixed blessing from a box-office perspective, says BoxOfficeMojo.com analyst Brandon Gray. For every hit ("JFK," "Platoon," "Born" on the "Fourth of July"), Stone has had some financial misses ("Alexander," "Nixon," "U-Turn").