10.21.08

Thandie Nails Condi

Thandie Newton's scene-stealing turn as Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's W, reveals her as both an automaton and something more complex.

For my money, the most interesting portrayal in W. is that of Condoleezza Rice, as played by Thandie Newton. On one hand she's a pitch-perfect automaton; indeed, her longest speaking part is half a sentence in Russian. She dispenses facts like a braying machine, bobble-nodding a head of hyper-lacquered hair. "I agree," she says, and "amen to that." Ever the good church lady, she folds her body into devoutly prayerful form, on cue.

On the other hand, Newton's interpretation of Rice embodies a subtle hinge between the vulgar and the refined, the yes and the no; she performs the threshold force between heaven and hell. It is the occasional crack in her veneer that tells all: When George W. Bush leads his team of advisers down a steamy backwoods path in Crawford—and then gets lost—it is Rice's subtle gesture, a half-suppressed twitch beneath the merest sheen of perspiration on her brow, that nails the moment.

Rice is caught in the weird hierarchy of the Bush administration, where nothing seems to trump the proud place of pure hokum. One often wonders: What on earth could she be thinking?

Those small flickers of dubiety only hint at the complexity that is the real Condoleezza Rice, but they do underscore the degree to which her career has been one not just of loyal conformity but also a kind of self-suppression. One cannot help but wonder who she will be after this administration is over. While a woman of apparently blind faith, Rice is also a woman of some substance. One often wonders of Rice, caught in the weird hierarchy of the current Bush administration, where nothing seems to trump the proud place of pure hokum: What on earth could she be thinking?

Ultimately, that's the power of Stone's cartoonish rendering: Having visited W.'s comic book world of much partying, posturing, praying, and preying, one emerges from the theater into the shock of a cold world lurching thoughtlessly toward the rim of real disaster. As W. himself said when asked about his legacy: "In history we'll all be dead."