Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bob Woodward on Colin Powell in W: More credit than he deserves

I don't actually like pooping on supposed national heroes (or former national heroes on their way to redemption), but as a member of the reality-based community, it does twist my britches some to see the impressive, but ultimately (in my mind) quite tragically flawed and not-heroic-enough Powell lionized because he did the somewhat brave thing and endorsed Obama. (After, it is only somewhat cynical to note, Obama has taken a clear lead, and long after McCain made it obvious that his military outlook as he has enunciated it looks more like Bush's than Powell's during the latter's time as SecState, and a good bit after many more conservative conservatives had jumped ship over the exquisitely underqualified Palin.)

Bob Woodward, on Slate's so-far ho-hum "Diary on W" between himself, Oliver Stone, Ron Suskind, and Jacob Weisberg (who cares!), had this to say on Jeffrey Wright's excellent portrayal of Powell:
Jacob, you make note of the scene in W. where Bush and his advisers debate whether to go to war. In it, the Colin Powell character makes his case against the invasion. The problem is, as best I can tell, no such meeting ever took place. The president never called the National Security Council and the top advisers together to have a real knock-down, drag-out, come-to-Jesus meeting. It gives Powell more credit than he deserves. This is the broad meeting that Bush should have had to hash it out among his advisers. Powell's plea to the president in August 2002, which he recently affirmed, was that the administration needed to look at the consequences of war, but he never argued openly to the president that he should not invade Iraq.

(spoil-sporty, cynical, "Is nothing sacred?!?" emphasis added)


Daktari said...

Have you seen W yet? I heard it sucked, sucked, sucked and wasn't planning on going.

J said...

Oh-ho, no! I liked it.

It was different than I expected. For one thing, the grim reality of the impact of W's choices are a bit abstracted, since the focus is on his relationship with Daddy Bush. The overarching fact that this Oedipal play really has ruined the lives of millions is made reference to, but carries little direct impact within the film.

Also, it jumps around, jarringly to me, and only after getting about half-way through it can I see what Stone was trying to do. He could've told the story linearly, but I think it would've been less interesting and too pat that way. This way, the development of W now and then is separated in such a way that it's not: part a) doesn't get along with dad, part b) starts war out of spite from childhood offenses.

It does let W off a little too easy in that I think he's far more cynically self-serving in real life (not consciously, perhaps) and it makes him lovable in a certain way (and it makes you root for Poppy Bush, though in a made up scene you are able to recover your sense that he is a real person, and not necessarily scrupulous politician). It lets Powell off way too easy by making him the hero.

All told, I really liked it. My friend Andrew LOVED it. I can see a number of reasons why people with similar tastes would differ on it -- it's weird stylistic editing can be obtrustive, even if it serves a purpose, and it doesn't look to build to given specific point, per se, but rather a portrait put together piece by piece. I guess I like this last analogy -- it's a portrait movie, not one with a completely coherent through-going plot, and until you get through part of it, you don't recognize the shapes the artists' making with the paints, and in the end you might find yourself going "so what?"

Anyway. I recommend it. Don't know if it'll man your cannon, but <'shrugs'>.