Dear Oliver Stone,
Normally, I would address a letter to whom it may concern, but I imagine your ego and the nature of my complaints dictate that this bad boy goes straight to you.
First, to honor my mother’s advice of always saying something nice, I have to say that your actors turned in some incredible performances. Brolin and Banks are great. Burstyn and Cromwell bring their incredible talents to the table. Dreyfuss and Wright actually surprised me by how good their performances were.
Sadly, since I didn’t realize you were making a Lifetime Television Movie of the Week, that’s about the only strongly positive thing I could say. Had I known that, my expectations may have been on par to enjoy it.
I shouldn’t be that surprised, though. After all, how much production value could be shoved into an indie with no budget that’s rushed into production and doesn’t even have a full cast by the time filming starts? That was rhetorical, but you can answer if you want. Some people may really want to know.
Tell me if I’m wrong here – you decided to take the youth and adulthood of our current president to create a caricature of the man and his daddy issues to show how his psyche affected an entire nation’s course to war. Is that about right?
It may be completely unfair, but it’s difficult to measure the worth of this film outside the motivations for making it. Let’s just say it’s not simply suspicious that a politically motivated movie that wasn’t in motion to be made eight months ago was made quickly enough to come out just before a major election. With that in mind, everything in the film seems sort of, well, unfair – colored by an agenda instead of propelled by good filmmaking. Without that in mind, I have no idea what message you were trying to send. The bulk of the story comes straight from things widely known about the man, and the blanks are filled in by surreal familial moments that make Barbara Bush look like Mommy Dearest and George Sr. look like a mannequin with a Quaalude addiction.
Father/Son fist fight? Really?
Your story is decent, but you handle incredibly serious subject matter as if you were making a Disney movie. When choosing to profile a sitting president, I thought you might have brought some serious bite to the project. I thought that you would have directed the film with a sharp wit (and possibly even some conspiracy theories) instead of curling up into the fetal position and calling it a day. Out of that fetal position seems to have come a story that fluctuates between farce, drama, satire and screwball with the awkward teetering of a newborn.
Either that, or you meant for the tone of your filmmaking to match the ineptitude of Bush himself – in which case, you’re a misunderstood genius. And I owe you a serious apology.
I am glad, though, that the film wasn’t a straightforward partisan attack on Bush. You made him sympathetic and painted Cheney as the true villain, and that was admirable. Still, I think the only people that are going to love this film are the vehement anti-Bush crowd, the anti-Bush-cronies crowd, and the morbidly curious. Lucky for you, your subject matter is polling at something like 15% approval which is almost exactly inversely proportionate to how your film is currently polling on Rotten Tomatoes. Coincidence? Probably, but I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to you.
Mr. Stone, with the way you shy away completely from controversy with such a loaded subject matter, it’s likely that your film will be forgotten in only a few years and not stand up to the test of time the way a film like this should do. Fortunately, it being forgotten may be the best possible thing that could happen for you.