One word sums up how I felt while watching W: uncomfortable.
I went into this film expecting more of an absurdist comedy than a tragedy. The level of realism was far beyond what I expected. For the most part, the cast, makeup, and casting crew did such a good job with the characters that it was very easy to imagine that these were not actors on the screen but the actual people. Josh Brolin's characterization of W was certainly Oscar-worthy.
Even better than Brolin's part was Phedon Papamichael's photographic direction. The job of the Director of Photography is to bring the story to life through the creation of images to draw the attention of the viewer where the Director wants. Few films are as good of an example of this as W. Papamichael used the camera to force moral and emotional perspective in a way that I have rarely seen outside of the films of Stanley Kubrick. I've only seen the film once, viewing it as a complete work. I intend to watch it again to study the photography.
Overall, I thought the film was fair in its treatment of the actual people involved. The most ardent Bush supporters will not like it, but to still be that supportive of him in the final months of his second term, you either have to not be paying attention or be uncritical in all of your thought. While artistic license was taken throughout the film, the portrayal of all events and people, with the possible exception of Dick Cheney, were far more grounded in reality and recorded history than I expected.
The film made me uncomfortable on multiple levels, which is why it succeeds and deserves such a high rating*. The portrayal of Bush's relationship with his parents, especially his father, forces the viewer to feel sorry for him. The overt religiosity that pervades the public service portion of his life must anger anyone who believes strongly in the separation of church and state. There are many moments when, with any other characters, the film should have generated much laughter. Only one moment in the film actually caused more than one person in the theater to laugh. I guess 4000+ dead soldiers drains the humor out of even the most hilarious gaffes.
I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to see a realistic portrayal of historical events. I wish Stone had waited until Bush was out of office to make it, though. While it captures the major events that were involved in building the Bush legacy, it ends far too early.
* This post was copied from my posting on imdb.com. I rated this film 8 stars.