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THE BIG PICTURE

The 'W.' script pits 41 vs. 43

June 28, 2008|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

This week, Patrick Goldstein's Big Picture column also became a blog on the L.A. Times' website. The following item and others can be found on the Big Picture blog (latimes.com/thebigpicture).

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IT FEELS like moviedom's version of an Ultimate Fighting grudge match -- Bush vs. Stone.

The two men were born into wealth and were briefly classmates at Yale, but since then, the twain has hardly met. One ducked out of military service, boozed and brawled until he found God, ran a baseball team and turned to politics, ending up as governor of Texas and a two-term president, though the last years, thanks to a disastrous war in Iraq, have been pretty much of a fiasco, with his party losing Congress and his popularity ratings at historic lows.

The other earned medals in Vietnam before emerging as a bigger-than-life Hollywood filmmaker, tackling Big Issues of the day ("Platoon," "Wall Street" and "JFK") before seeing his own career take a downhill slide of its own, the bumps in the road smoothed over with booze and psychedelics.

Now another chapter is being written. Down in Louisiana, Oliver Stone has been shooting "W.," his very personal take on the psychological evolution of George W. Bush, the movie everyone in Hollywood is dying to see but no one was willing to fund (Bill Block's QED International ultimately bankrolled the movie's $30-million budget and Lionsgate will release it this fall). It stars Josh Brolin as Dubya, with Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush.

Our film reporter John Horn has just returned from steamy Shreveport, La., where he watched Stone filming a father-son scene between Bush Sr. (played by James Cromwell) and Bush Jr. set during Dubya's tenure as owner of the Texas Rangers, with a local football stadium standing in for the Rangers' home field (John's story will run Sunday).

All too often these days, especially when the crisis management PR folks are on the case, a visit to a Hollywood set feels a lot like a trip to Los Alamos in the '40s during the development of the atom bomb. That goes double when it comes to the set of Stone's "W.," especially after all the ruckus caused earlier this year when a bootleg version of the film's script showed up on the Internet. It sounds like John got the "I Spy" treatment, to the point where he couldn't even read the "sides" -- the pages of the script that are being shot that day.

If John had only stopped by my house before he went to Shreveport, he could've gotten a pretty decent idea of what the script (written by Stanley Weiser) was like. Someone in the Stone camp slipped me an early version of it months ago. While there have been considerable revisions made since, I can guarantee that if you think "W." will be an earnest, respectful rendering of the Bush years -- sort of like Stone's "World Trade Center" take on 9/11 -- you would be . . . wrong!

As John put it after returning from the set, the film "is heavily focused on the president's relationship with his father, so the best analogy that Oliver Stone came up with was: 'Henry IV.' Like Shakespeare, there's a little bit of history, a little drama, a little comedy -- anchored by a story about a king (George H.W. Bush) and his sometimes ne'er-do-well Prince Hal (George W. Bush)."

That's a fair description of the script I read. It hits nearly all the high points of the Bush ascension and presidency, from his youthful frat house antics and religious convergence (we even get a scene where he claims God wants him to run for president) to Bush and Co.'s mishandling of the Iraqi postwar effort. But as John pointed out, the meat of the story involves the complicated 41-43 father-son relationship and how it impacted Dubya's insistence on invading Iraq.

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patrick.goldstein@latimes.com

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'I'll never let this happen to me'

Here's a look at one of my favorite scenes, with the Bush family watching the 1992 election results in a Houston hotel, just after the networks have projected a Clinton victory. (A final reminder: This is clearly not the finished "W." script, but it will give you a flavor of the script's knack for capturing the Bush psychodrama.)

-- Patrick Goldstein

INT. HOUSTONIAN HOTEL -- SUITE -- HOUSTON, TEXAS -- NOVEMBER 1992

George Jr. turns off the TV. Sr. begins weeping. W looks at his father, jarred, never seen him so emotional, so broken.

BARBARA

The best person didn't win, George. The best man did not win tonight.

BUSH SR.

It hurts. Hurts so bad. My pride . . . I don't like to see those who wrote me off be right. But I was wrong and they were right. . . . That hurts more than anything.

BARBARA

He is so beneath you. He doesn't deserve to be president. And wouldn't be if it wasn't for the liberal media, the New York Times, blaming you for Reagan's mess.

George Jr. puts hand on his father's shoulder.

BUSH JR.

Poppy, you were a great President. Great President.

BUSH SR.

Gave it all I could. Thought the war would have carried us. Guess I reached my level, son.

BUSH JR.

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