Stone lets Brolin shine as Bush in biopic

Lionsgate Films

Release date: Oct. 17

Political-film provocateur and three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone isn’t the awards-night staple he once was, but it’s worth noting that when he addresses presidents and controversies surrounding them — as in “JFK” and “Nixon” — the Academy takes notice.

The hastily assembled Bush biopic “W.” is friskier Stone, though, using a farce-laced yet psychologically serious approach to the peculiar rise of our 43rd president, a reformed drunk and Establishment scion whom, the film argues, led us into the Iraq war partly as a way to get out of the shadow of an ex-president father who didn’t expect much from him.

Although Stone hardly lets Bush off the hook for his dangerous rashness and lack of curiosity, the pic’s empathetic treatment of a treacherous disappointed-father/wayward-son dynamic surprised those familiar with Stone’s leftist ways.

Like his similarly balanced “Nixon” — Stone’s Shakespearean-tragedy take on that president, which earned four noms in 1996 — “W.” could see some love come Oscar time for its director as well as screenwriter Stanley Weiser. But the box office take — likely to peter out around $30 million — is hardly the stuff of Stone’s “Platoon” or “JFK.”

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times praised “W.” as “exceptionally well cast,” which addresses the film’s strongest chances for Oscar recognition. Josh Brolin taps into his character-actor strengths and leading-man magnetism to ensure his portrait of Bush is more than mere impression. And for this breakout star, having another banner year (he’s in also in “Milk” and had a contender run in ’07) could come with Acad recognition.

Likewise, noted Hollywood lefties James Cromwell and Richard Dreyfuss avoid right-wing caricature as W.’s twin father figures, the dynasty-protecting patrician George H.W. Bush and cynically manipulative VP Dick Cheney, respectively. But will a left-leaning Academy feel comfortable casting votes for such politically unpopular characters?

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more