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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Secrets from the 'W.' script

June 26, 2008 | 11:44 am

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 Oliver 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 our film reporter John Horn got the "I Spy" treatment when he was on the set of "W." recently, 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, La., 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 the script months ago. While there clearly have been considerable revisions made since, I can guarantee that if you think "W." is going to 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.

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 script, but it will give you a flavor of the script's knack for capturing the Bush psychodrama.) 

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.

        Nah. Maybe, if you had just clobbered the [SOB].

                                                      Bush Sr.

                                   Huh?

                                                      Bush Jr.

         Gone all the way. To Baghdad. Cleaned his clock.

                                                      Barbara

           (sharply to Laura) Did he imbibe in something I don't know about?

                                            Bush Jr.

Don't start that. I was talking about decisiveness. Finishing. What I've always been told.

                                             Barbara

                                 You'd better stop this. Zip it up, right now, you hear me.

Jr. backs away, turns.

                                                       Bush Sr.

                                 (sharply to Jr.) I won that war.

                                                       Bush Jr.

                                   'Course you did, Poppy.            

BEDROOM  -  MOMENTS LATER

                                               Laura

What was that all about?

                                              Bush Jr.

Be damned if I know. Never seen him like this before. It's strange.

                                              Laura

It's hard. He knows that this is the end.

                                               Bush Jr.

If Atwater hadn't died. If he had listened to me and attacked, attacked, attacked! Might have turned out different.                                 

                                                          Laura

           No. That's not what this is about. His health, all the medications he's been taking. He doesn't have the strength, the fire he had before. He knows.

Jr. sadly peers at the hunched figure of his father.

                                                         Bush Jr.

Can't bear to see him like this. Hurts too damn much to lose.   

Then, resolute:

                                              Bush Jr.

I'll never let this happen to me. Never.

                                       

            

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