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Do Political Films Matter?

Oliver Stone's W, which releases this week, is the latest of many movies about pols and politics, but whether they actually affect election outcomes is hard to say.

Hollywood and Washington have never been the most comfortable of bedfellows. There is a mutual skepticism—sometimes disdain—between the two, and yet they are bound up together as closely as two American cultural institutions could possibly be. Politics and Hollywood go together like baseball and hot dogs, fireworks and the 4th of July.

Movies are constantly being made about politics, and politicians—particularly Democrats—often use Hollywood for their own purposes. The relationship is typically amplified in election years, when partisans on both sides use any and all media to sway voters one way or another—and mud-slinging 30-second TV commercials are only the beginning.

The latest example of this hits theaters this week: Oliver Stone's W, a biopic about George W. Bush, releases on Friday—conveniently, just two weeks before the presidential election. Though Stone claims the film is a "fair and balanced" portrait of the President, he also admits, "A lot will shock you … I think in this present political state, the real George W. Bush might not approve of this movie. But this movie tries to understand George W. Bush—the good, the bad and the ugly."

Josh Brolin, who plays the title role, is a little more pointed: "It's about a guy who was flailing around, who pulled his life together at 40 and became president, and asks if he really wanted to be, should he have been, would it be better if he hadn't been and whether we all would have been better off if he'd become baseball commissioner." Still, Newsweek says "the widely reviled Bush comes off better than you'd think." At any rate, W will doubtless be a polemic for Bush-haters and defenders.

W is just one example of "election year ...

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Posted:
June
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