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Fri 24 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Stone portrays George Bush as party boy

When Oliver Stone said he was making a movie about Bush, most expected a hatchet job. They were wrong.

When oliver stone announced he was making a movie about George W Bush, most people expected a hatchet job. They were wrong.

Although Stone is a harsh critic of Bush's policies, W. is a surprisingly straightforward look at the improbable life of the 43rd US president. The movie opened on Oct 17, 18 days before voters decide whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain will succeed Bush in the White House.

W., a reference to Bush's middle initial and countrified nickname, includes unflattering scenes depicting his days as a party boy, his mangling of the English language and his stubborn refusal to admit a mistake. But there's also a tender portrait of his marriage, a sympathetic view of his religious devotion and the image of Bush (played by Josh Brolin) as a strong-willed leader who sincerely believes in what he's doing, especially in Iraq.

"I'm a dramatist," Stone said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. "They'll say I'm a political propagandist, but I don't think that's true at all."

The three-time Oscar winner has made two other films about US presidents, Nixon and JFK. "They said ‘Nixon' was going to be a hatchet job and it wasn't," said Stone, wearing a grey sports jacket and open-collared shirt. "And ‘JFK' is not what they made it out to be. It's a deconstruction of the Warren Commission."

Love him or hate him, the 62-year-old director, writer and producer is hard to ignore. In addition to his presidential movies, he has made films about hot-button subjects such as Vietnam (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July), runaway capitalism (Wall Street) and 9/11 (World Trade Centre). Stone has an uncanny knack for agitating critics and viewers, though he swears he doesn't set out to do that.

"Controversy doesn't sell tickets," he said. "What sells tickets is truth, integrity, honesty, hope and heart. You've got to have heart."

While Stone does examine Bush's planning of the Iraq War, W. concentrates more on personality than politics. "This is a story that Preston Sturges could only invent - a guy who was a complete failure at 40 becomes president at 54," Stone said. "And look what happens... the world changes forever."

Brolin looks and sounds like Bush - the strange syntax, staccato delivery and Texas twang are unmistakable - but he avoids turning the president into a "Saturday Night Live" caricature. "You cannot make a two-hour movie with an imitator because it won't last," Stone said. "You have to care about the man, and Josh makes you care."

W. focuses heavily on Bush's strained relationship with his father, former president George HW Bush (James Cromwell), who considered his eldest son a failure until he was elected governor of Texas in 1994. The younger Bush had foundered as a student, military pilot and oilman before becoming part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

"He was the black sheep,"Stone said. "The second son, Jeb, was the anointed one. He had the grace, whereas W. was more like his mother - bad tempered and didn't think before he spoke."

Bush's critics have ridiculed him as an intellectual lightweight manipulated by older, more experienced men like vice president Dick Cheney and former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the movie, however, Bush is more king than pawn in the lead-up to the Iraq War. "He found his role as the war president: ‘I am the decider. I make the final decision. Nobody else - not the UN, not the Congress, me,'" Stone said.

Stone and Bush come from similar backgrounds. Both grew up in privileged families, entered Yale University at the same time, developed reputations as hard partyers and became successful but controversial public figures. There is one significant difference: Stone was a decorated soldier in Vietnam while Bush stayed home as a member of the Texas Air National Guard.

"Frankly, I wish that he had gone to Vietnam because I think if he had experienced war firsthand, he would... think twice before he bombs people," Stone said.

Stone says Bush has hurt his family's reputation as well as his country's standing in the world. "He's trashed the Bush name," Stone said. "[Former Florida governor] Jeb Bush would have been a potential president, but he never could be now."

This article is courtesy of Bloomberg.

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