Stone Fills Out Cast for Bush Movie
Controversial Filmmaker's Early Script Depicts President Bush's Hard-Partying Youth and Feuds With His Father
By MARCUS BARAM
April 1, 2008
Oliver Stone is filling up the cast for his upcoming warts-and-all film about President Bush.
The controversial director is reportedly in final negotiations with "Mission Impossible II" star Thandie Newton to play Condoleeza Rice in his upcoming "W," which starts filming this month.
And "Fantastic Four" star Ioan Gruffudd is the favorite to play British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The film already stars "No Country for Old Men" star Josh Brolin as Bush, "Forty-Year-Old Virgin" star Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, "Babe" star James Cromwell as George Bush Sr. and Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush.
Though the movie is scheduled for release in 2009, there is a chance that it might be pushed up to come out before the November election, say insiders.
According to an early script obtained by ABCNews.com, the movie is a classic American story: In the prime of his life, a man who parties too much and lives in the shadow of his esteemed father turns his life around. He gives up alcohol, embraces religion and finds a new purpose.
But will his desire to impress his dad and purge his personal demons put the world in danger?
The film's script captures purported notorious moments in Bush's life:
Rumors that his father pulled strings to get him into Harvard Business School.
His arrest during college for tearing down the goalposts at a football game.
Almost getting into a fistfight with his father when he comes home drunk one night in the 1970s.
His vow to quit drinking when he wakes up with a wicked hangover soon after his 40th birthday.
It also covers plenty of his administration's lowlights -- from Bush's reported obsession with invading Iraq, which Stone will portray as a desire to avenge Saddam Hussein's assassination attempt on Bush's father and his frustration with the failed search for WMDs to his penchant for malapropisms and cheery optimism about the chances for civil war in Iraq.
Hard Drinking, Family Feud
The first scene, in which Bush and his advisers brainstorm different terms to describe their global enemies, from "Axis of Hatred" to "Axis of Unbearably Odious," is followed by an early glimpse of the hard-drinking young man when he was a college student at Yale.
Drinking vodka mixed with orange juice out of a trash can at the DKE frat house, Bush impresses the fraternity leader with his ability to memorize the names of his fellow pledges.
Asked whether he'll follow in the steps of his politician father and grandfather, Dubya quips, "Hell no, that's the last thing in the world I'd want to do."
Years later, after Dubya drains a pint of Wild Turkey and runs over a pile of trash cans while driving home, his angry father tells him to call Alcoholics Anonymous, prompting Dubya to sarcastically deride his dad as "Mr. Perfect. Mr. War Hero. Mr F-- God Almighty."
Stone, who mined psychological motives in his previous presidential movies, from the conspiratorial "JFK" to the dark character study of "Nixon," makes much of Bush's competitive relationship with his father and how it fueled his desire to invade Iraq.
When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld purportedly confronts Bush in 2002 about his obsession with Saddam: "What's the big deal about Saddam? Bin Laden's the trained ape that wrought this hell on us," Dubya's response sounds like a line out of "The Godfather": "You don't go after the Bushes and get to talk about it. Ya got me?"
After his born-again experience, Bush says that he doesn't ask his dad for advice because "there's a higher Father I appeal to."
When his father cries after losing to Bill Clinton in 1992, Bush sticks it to his dad by telling him that he would have won if he'd ousted Saddam at the end of the first Gulf War.
When Bush's parents tell him to hold off running for governor of Texas until after younger brother Jeb Bush has a chance to wins Florida's top spot, Barbara tells him that he can't win because "you're loud and you have a short fuse."
Stone also portrays the president as stubborn and aggressive when it came to prosecuting the war in Iraq.
Before the invasion, he tells a shocked British Prime Minister Tony Blair about alternative plans such as baiting Saddam by painting a U.S. spy plane in U.N. colors and assassinating the Iraqi leader.
When he hears about French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's desire to give weapons inspectors 30 more days to work in Iraq, Bush explodes: "Thirty days! I'd like to stuff a plate of freedom fries down that slick piece of s--'s throat!"
The Lighter Side of Bush
Stone includes many lighter moments, such as Bush's fondness for nicknames and teasing, like calling Colin Powell "Balloon Foot" and telling Paul Wolfowitz to trim his ear hairs.
In one scene, Bush practices his parachute landing in the White House pool but forgets to properly release the harness and sinks to the bottom. In another scene, Rumsfeld doodles a drawing of Condoleeza Rice standing on a piano with a globe spinning on her finger.
During the planning of the war, Bush and his top advisers are shown locking the war-wary Powell out of a room, erupting into laughter when they finally let him in.
Other times, Bush's light touch seems blithely out of touch with reality. While he munches on bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread, he brags to Cheney about how his running time has improved since the Afghanistan invasion.
And he compares the troops' ordeal in the deserts of Iraq to his ability to run in 100-degree heat. At one point, Bush describes giving up sweets as "my personal sacrifice to show support for our troops."
He interrupts a meeting with Prince Bandar, in which he informs the Saudi ambassador about plans to invade Iraq, so that he can catch the rest of the 2002 Miami Dolphins-Baltimore Ravens playoff game. Bush is later shown choking on a pretzel and passing out during the second quarter.
But the film also strives to paint a humanistic portrait of the commander in chief, with Bush once telling the Rev. Billy Graham that "there's this darkness that follows me."
"People say I was born with a silver spoon, but they don't know the burden that carries."
Soon after a disastrous news conference in April 2004, Bush retreats to the White House den to watch a Texas Rangers game in the final scene of the script.
Popping open a nonalcoholic beer, he lapses into his favorite dream: playing center field for the Rangers. Hearing the crack of the bat, he looks up for the ball but he can't find it in the sky.
Is it Accurate?
Stone, who was accused of reanimating long-discredited conspiracy theories in "JFK" and bending the facts in his other films, might come under fire for his portrayal of Bush as an impetuous leader.
Already, one former Bush administration official objects to the accuracy of the film.
One explosive scene in the movie features press secretary Ari Fleischer complaining to Bush about longtime reporter Helen Thomas who questioned the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Bush explodes in a profanity-laced outburst , "Did you tell her I don't like motherf-- who gas their own people! Did you tell her I don't like a-- holes who try to kill my father! Did you tell her I'm going to kick his … a-- all over the Middle East?"
"It's fantasy," said Fleischer. "He used to talk like that before he was president? But he never talked like that around me. He mentioned his father once, in a public setting, at a fundraiser in Houston in 2002. "
Fleischer doesn't blame Stone, explaining that the screenwriter did his research and that there are erroneous accounts of the administration in books and magazines. "Hollywood is Hollywood."
The White House declined comment on the movie and its portrayal of the president.
How Will It Do?
One film columnist, who has read the script, thinks that it's a well-written story that could do well.
"The lifeblood of this film is not content, there's nothing revelatory or stunning in it, but acting opportunities especially for Josh Brolin as Bush," said Jeffrey Wells, who runs the movie blog Hollywood-elsewhere.com.
"It's about a guy who's got a life-long identity crisis but he finds himself when he goes to war. He uses the Iraq War to assert himself and make him feel like he's his own man."
If the movie, which also stars "40-Year-Old Virgin" star Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, comes out before the election, it could have an effect because John McCain's support for the Iraq War remains a central part of his message.
"It's happened before where movies such as 'All the President's Men' have had an impact on an election," said Robert Brent Toplin, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the author of "Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11: How One Film Divided a Nation."
"That movie hurt Gerald Ford by revealing the investigation and focusing on the corruption of the Nixon administration. He lost by a few points in 1976 and the movie came out early that spring."
Moore's" Fahrenheit 9/11" came out before the 2004 election but it didn't prove to have much of an effect. "The right-wingers did a good job of discrediting the message and the messenger," said Toplin.
Many political movies, such as "Primary Colors" and "Wag the Dog," didn't have much of an effect and didn't do that well at the box office. "But if Stone can make this entertaining, the timing could be superb."