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Movie Review: W: The Movie

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 5, 2008

Man with a painted face flies a jet

Alfred Eaker’s W: The Movie (not to be confused with Oliver Stone’s big budget W. biopic) casts the 43rd President of the United States as a patriotic Paul Stanley.

No, W (played by director Eaker) isn’t in a rock band and the star painted on his face is over the other eye, so maybe the analogy doesn’t hold up so much. But when one is making a no-budget political satire and the director has cast himself in several roles, it ends up being a good move to cover each of those characters in different face paint configurations to tell them apart.

Actually, since I hadn’t looked at the cast list prior to watching the film, I wasn’t 100% sure that W and his arch-nemesis, the liberal reporter BlueMahler — whose face is split in red/blue makeup like Frank Gorshin was split in black and white in that old goofy Star Trek episode — were played by the same guy. So, it’s not just the makeup. Eaker is distinctively different in each of his parts.

The beginning of the film parodies the Bush presidency on a liberal point by point basis: The stealing of the election in Florida, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. But then, as the Iraq war wages on endlessly, the plot splits off into a Seventh Seal-esque chess match between W and Mahler. Generally, the film doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be a pointed critique directed specifically at the Bush administration, but just a general “theater of the absurd” piece on the theme of asking a populace to give up their freedom in order to be free.

There’s some good jokes early on, like W not knowing New York is in the U.S. on 9/11, but the film kind of loses focus as the targets get broader. For example, there’s an involved subplot involving Mahler’s son Samson (Ross St. Just) who’s just a skinny little kid, but becomes a famous pro wrestler after greasing himself up with testosterone. W then goes after Samson to get to Mahler.

This all makes sense plot-wise, but it’s not quite clear what Eaker is attempting to satirize with this storyline. Not that the film just needed to be all jokes mocking Bush to be successful. I don’t think that would serve any purpose in this stage of Bush’s presidency and would probably prove to be more tiring than humorous. But the film’s earlier trajectory seems to get thrown off as more elements get introduced.

Eaker also shoots what seems like 90% or so of the film in front of a green screen. So, in that regard, combined with the unusually costuming and makeup, the film is visually interesting. There’s a certain style out there now that isn’t seen very often, but I think there’s a whole area where no-budget filmmakers are creating original spaces with cheap, but very effective, special effects.

You see this in the work of Carlos Atanes, Jay Hollinsworth and Sean DelGatto and now Eaker. It’s an aesthetic that I really dig. But, at the same time, Eaker’s technique kind of forces him to lock his camera down as his characters walk about as if on a stage in front of a digital background, whereas a moving camera could have emphasized the humor and action. A couple of fighter jet sequences are very exciting and a real standout in the film, though.

W: The Movie is a good showcase for Eaker for his acting and the unique visual look he gives the film, but the movie needs a little snappier pace throughout to keep up with those visuals.

Watch the W: The Movie movie trailer: