J.F.K., The Doors, Nixon. Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July.

Love them or hate them, these are the films that help define the pop culture history of our age. Ask most people and they will say JFK is a serious representation of fact. So it was with this reality in mind that I went to see W.

For those expecting something similar to the first two “President” films will find something quite different. The latte drinkers will wonder why there isn’t more foaming-at- the-mouth bashing. The only seeming commentary by Stone comes in the music selections – “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; “The Yellow Rose of Texas”; the theme from “Robin Hood”; and even “The Whiffenpoof Song.”; Otherwise, Stone refuses to show his hand as a political provocateur or a satirist.

The life of the 43rd President is portrayed as a peculiar American tragedy. And while I expected to feel punched in the face like Kimbo Slice, I got caught up in the story of the “poor little rich boy” who lived in the shadow of his father and younger brother for so long, he rose and rose until he got strong enough to deliver the country into the hands of power hungry men.

Josh Brolin plays the lead role honorably. There are no cheap shots and very few historical revisions. The film places W’s “revelation” to be President years after it happened. (He knew he was the front runner when he ran for re-election as Governor. All he had to do was win.)

W unfolds in two narrative streams. The first is the series of White House meetings leading up to the Iraq War. The second is the series of flashbacks providing insight into Bush’s past. And the focus is always on Bush. His personality, his addiction, his insecurities, his unwavering faith in a mission from God, his yearning to prove himself, his inability to deal with those who advised him.

Two of the president’s men stand out: Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss). The latter is a gray eminence on the sidelines until he has his Dr. Strangelove moment in front of a map of the oil fields of the Middle East, uttering the chilling words, “There is no exit strategy. We stay.”

Thandie Newton’s Condoleezza Rice is the closest the movie comes to “Saturday Night Live” caricature, but it’s a cruelly brilliant cartoon nonetheless. She’s all awkward postures and nasal recitals.

I’ve written before on what I think history’s verdict on W will be. Stone’s pity for the W character gives the film nobility and yet cripples it as the same time. I didn’t feel sorry for W for one second. The “missed the ball” metaphor at the films finale is apropos for the last years of his presidency. One the country will probably live to regret. Its hangover headache is already so bad it may give itself cancer.

About Terry Crowley