Bush Faithful Shun 'W.' Opening

The most prophetic throwaway line in Oliver Stone's film portrayal of George W. Bush -- the director's favorite -- is uttered at a Texas barbecue during his early run for Congress.

"You're a devil," says Laura Bush, played by Elizabeth Banks, after a flirtatious first meeting with the hard-drinking playboy. "A devil in a white hat."

That paradox -- the 43rd president of the United States as the man who canonized the pre-emptive strike in two wars with the certitude of the moral right -- provides high drama for those who believe Bush is a good, but dangerous man.

In "W.," which opens in theaters today, Stone presents a psychological look at a man -- often empathetic and at times buffoonish -- who rose from privileged Yale frat boy to evangelical convert to the leader of the free world.

As Republican presidential nominee John McCain holds Bush as a political pariah -- "If you want to run against Bush, you should have done it four years ago" -- even the Bush faithful want no part of reliving the drama.

ABCNews.com contacted about 25 Republicans and former Bush administration staffers and found only one -- former Press Secretary Scott McClellan -- who would preview the film and comment on its accuracy. And even he was sqeamish.

"It's hard to sit back and take a look from another perspective," he told ABCNews.com. "It's a tough step to take to come to grips with the fact that things didn't turn out the way we envisioned, and the presidency veered off course. It's tough to accept that when you were part of them."

Several of the people contacted by ABCNews.com said they weren't surprised by McClellan's willingness to talk. Among Bush administration staffers, a group known for holding strong loyalty to the president, McClellan is widely seen as a betrayer for writing a scathing tell-all book about his time under Bush.

"How shocking," said Trent Duffy, McClellan's assistant from 2003 to 2006.

Bush Staffers Refuse to See 'W.'

"I have no plans to see it," said Mark McKinnon, who advised Bush's two presidential campaigns. "And I really don't even want to do anything that brings any more publicity to the movie."

"I just don't know why anyone would really want to see this," he told ABCNews.com. "Supporters won't like the caricature. So, they won't go. Opponents of the president's may go, but I doubt in large numbers. They don't really want a replay of the last eight years. They want to move on."

Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense and the major architect of the Iraq War, told ABCNews.com, "Sorry, no thanks."

A secretary in the office of Wolfowitz, who was portrayed by Dennis Boutsikaris as the Machiavellian mastermind who beat the war drum, told ABCNews.com, "Don't hold your breath."

Ari Fleischer, McClellan's predecessor, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft, both of whom left the administration in 2003, declined to screen the film.

Walking Into Theater 'Felt Awkward'

"Just walking into the theater felt a little awkward," said McClellan, whose memoir, "What Happened," exposed what he called the "shading of the truth" in the selling of the Iraq War.

"W." was rushed to release just three weeks before the presidential election, timing that Stone cryptically says is insignificant.

"I did three movies about Vietnam and that didn't do much good," Stone told the press this week.

Duffy agrees that the film will have little effect on the outcome of the election.

"The people who go to see political movies are strong-willed and have made their minds up," he said. "Most Americans are too busy with their own lives to pursue this. I wouldn't be surprised if some people supportive of the president went to laugh and opponents go to have their feelings confirmed."

Stone ''Overplayed the Faith Card'

Stone characterizes Bush's public persona as an impatient and verbally bumbling executive, but digs deeper to find a man who privately views himself as the Bush dynasty's "black sheep," struggling to live up to the high expectations of "Poppy," his emotionally guarded and domineering father.

"What intrigued me most was the way Stone explored the psychoanalysis of the father-son relationship and how it shaped George W. as president," said McClellan. "They are two very private individuals, and they care very little for being put on the couch or sharing their inner feelings publicly."

But did Stone get it right?

"There were elements of truth," he said.

Stone, not known for his fact-checking, took "some liberties," according to McClellan, exaggerating some of Bush's personal mannerisms -- like talking with a mouthful of food and the swagger. He also "overplayed the faith card."

Richard Dreyfuss as "vice" (Dick Cheney) was "spot on," though Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice was "unflattering" as a "yes woman," according to McClellan. Jeffrey Wright did a good job of "grasping Colin Powell's strong dissent."

But it is W. himself whom Stone sees most satirically.

Viewers watch the president's self-administered Heimlich maneuver, as he chokes on a pretzel.

In another scene, Bush ruminates on the toilet.

"Whoever was the son of a president?" he asks.

"John Quincy Adams," answers his smart, librarian wife.

Later, while his aides sing the "weapons of mass destruction" mantra, Bush is relieved that the go-to-war document is "only three pages" long.

"George Bush is no rocket scientist, he'd be the first to admit," said McClellan, "but he was no simpleton either."

'You're a Bush, Not a Kennedy'

Even the pathos of Bush's life becomes comedy. Young "Bushie" never seems to live up to his father's expectations:

"You're a Bush, not a Kennedy," Bush 41, played by James Cromwell, lectures to his son after shaky job starts, "chasing tail" and drunken-driving incidents. "Act like one."

Cromwell told ABCNews.com that the film isn't political.

"It begins with the family and with the father," he said. "The sins of the father are transferred to the son, and if the sins are pride, anger, mendacity, then the son picks it up and it begins to infect the body politics, and then we're all in trouble."

And in scenes where Bush meets wounded soldiers, McClellan said Stone's characterization of the president as "merely oblivious and almost smug" is "grossly unfair."

"I was at his side and those were very somber moments," said McClellan. "Those were probably the only moments that I would see doubt creep into the president's eyes."

Stone calls his portrait "fair and true," as he explores Bush's childhood up to the presidency and the Iraq War.

"You may not like him, but you care about him," Stone told ABC's "Nightline" before the opening of the film. "It's empathy versus sympathy."

Indeed, McClellan said, "Bush haters will think it's soft on him."

To date, Stone's presidential films have explored conspiracies ("JFK," 1991) and historical liberties ("Nixon," 1995). This time is no different.

"I like accuracy, but I'm not a documentarian or a journalist," said Stone.

Stone rose to prominence with a trilogy of films about the Vietnam War, two of which -- "Platoon" (1986) and "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989) -- won Academy Awards. He based the films on his combat experiences in 1967 and 1968.

He and Bush started together in the same class at Yale. Stone dropped out and went on to become a highly decorated infantryman in the Vietnam War, while Bush famously joined the Texas National Guard.

"If George Bush had gone to Vietnam and been an infantry soldier, smelled the earth, seen the bodies on the ground shot up or mutilated, he would have walked away with a wholly different conception of war," said Stone.

Stone admits his anti-war bias as he sums up the lesson of the film: "Don't vote for a man you want to have a beer with," he said, referring to a line by Tony Jones, who played Karl Rove.

Stone: 'The Joke's on Us'

"The tragedy is on the country, the joke's on us," Stone said.

No doubt Stone was looking for "maximum publicity" for his film while the presidential election was at a high pitch, according to ABC News consultant and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

She doubted it would have much impact beyond fueling anger against the media that will cry, "Here's another example of bias against Republicans."

"I think it's way too early for the Bush presidency to be written," he said. "We are not going to know that for years."

William Hussen, a visiting professor of communication at the State University of New York at Albany, agrees.

"Stories told through cinema or the printed word can certainly speak to the human condition and provide a deeper understanding of ourselves," he told ABCNews.com.

"But when you are creating a story about an individual or set of events that are contemporaneous, you're not writing about George Washington, but someone who lives today," said Hussen. "It becomes more difficult to evaluate the story, even if it has factual accuracy."

"The events are still unfolding and have yet to run their conclusion," Hussen said.

Marvin Olasky, the so-called "godfather" of compassionate conservatism, told ABCNews.com that he had not yet seen the film, but didn't deny its power to persuade.

"I know he [Bush] is no buffoon," said Olasky, who served on Bush's neo-conservative Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

"But when you look at the cause of the Reformation, the hymns Martin Luther wrote were more powerful than his theological treatises," he said. "Movies are the hymns of today."

Additional reporting by Sara Loeffelholz in Austin, Texas, and Rana Senol of ABC News Research.