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The Films Of Oliver Stone: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 5, 2012 at 11:05AM

Oliver Stone loves his country, but he is also its loudest critic. Whether tackling history head-on in films like "Platoon" or "Born On The Fourth Of July," or profiling presidents in "JFK," "W." and "Nixon," and even in seemingly genre-centered material like "Natural Born Killers" or "Any Given Sunday," Stone views America in his own unique, if sometimes contradictory ways. His track record is certainly marked by tremendous highs, definite lows and curious middles (mostly with genre excursions like "U-Turn," "Any Given Sunday" and "The Doors") but he is never one to sit still. For evidence of Stone's constantly changing priorities one can look to his last few films — "World Trade Center," "W.," "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" — and truly get a sense of a director driven both by passion and finance, and by a love for his country that is also pained by its failings.
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U Turn
"U Turn" (1997)
Standing out like a sore thumb in the director's filmography, Stone set the politics aside and had a little fun with the desert noir "U Turn." Billed, very deliberately, as "An Oliver Stone Movie" rather than as a "'film," it's a lunatic, gonzo piece of pulp, with the same spirit as "Natural Born Killers," but freed of the desire to be meaningful. Sean Penn is as close to an everyman as he's ever played, and gives a solid performance, but he's overshadowed by supporting players who seem to be in some kind of competition to out batshit-crazy each other. Every person that Penn meets in Superior, Arizona is more nuts than the last, from Jennifer Lopez's femme fatale (which surely got her the role in Soderbergh's "Out of Sight"), to Joaquin Phoenix's combustible Toby N. Tucker. It's a crude, unrestrained piece of work, but as time goes on it's become a rather enjoyable one — not a film that'll stick in the mind, by any means, but a blast while it lasts. Let's face it, any film involving a hideously-made-up Billy Bob Thornton playing solo Twister has to be worth tracking down, right? [B-]

Any Given Sunday
“Any Given Sunday” (1999)
Having never really understood the concept of understated or subtle, Oliver Stone’s work has always been over-the-top, but there’s a delineating line between his thematic overkill and his stylistic one. “JFK” marked the perfect confluence of multi-media formats climaxing to a sight and sound extravaganza, but then after that picture (“Natural Born Killers”), Stone went into a kind of schizophrenic overkill that only someone like Tony Scott could appreciate (and continues to do so). Stone then calmed down, slightly, a few years later when he got around to 1999’s football drama, “Any Given Sunday,” but the picture is still hilariously amplified and exaggerated with gusto. Just look at the synopsis for crying out loud. It’s a football movie called, a “look at the life and death struggles of modern day gladiators and those who lead them.” At his hammiest, loudest, and most over-the-top worst/best, Al Pacino plays the frustrated coach trying to bring his broken team back from the dead (cue: sports drama cliche) and somehow tame his arrogant, narcissistic and mercurial young quarterback (Jamie Foxx), who just won’t play by the rules — literally, he just does what he wants and changes plays mid-field. Co-starring Cameron Diaz (the team’s owner), Dennis Quaid (a fading quarterback losing his edge), James Woods, L.L. Cool J (all-around hilarious), Matthew Modine, Charlton Heston, Ann-Margret, Lauren Holly and more, “Any Given Sunday” is so melodramatically over-the-top, the film becomes like an unintentional parody of a sports film, but therein lies a lot of ironic value, and while excessive and over-sensationalized at every turn, it’s still pretty entertaining, even if that’s in an laughing-at-you, amused way. [C]

Alexander
"Alexander" (2004)
Boy, where to begin with this one? Possibly the most ambitious film Stone has ever attempted to make, "Alexander" is a pronounced and overwrought failure on any number of levels, rendered watchable only for its camp qualities. It’s a shame too, since there is much skill on display behind the camera — the battle scenes are grandiose and gorgeously lensed, for the most part eschewing tight choreography instead relying on impressive mounted bouts of confusion that feel just a tad more authentic. Where Stone’s film sinks is unfortunately, the cast — the director has from time to time let actors play fast and loose, but never to the degree that most thespians indulge in here. Then again, their characters are barely sketched out and mounted with absurdly over-exaggerated habits — from Angelina Jolie’s snake-handling, potentially-incestuous Olympias to Val Kilmer’s groggy over-eater Philip and Jared Leto’s painfully misguided eye-shadow addict Hephaistion. Colin Farrell as the titular military genius demands a sentence of his own — you can see him straining, trying to draw us in, but the larger-than-life Alexander is too much for the actor, who was at the height of his alcohol and drug addiction — and it slips away early in the film. When "Alexander" isn’t engaging in bloody warfare (Stone literally uses a red filter during a major sequence late in the film), it's front-loaded with giggle-inducing lover’s talk between Alexander and Hephaistion that almost always falls flat. A rare full-on misfire for the divisive director. [D-]

This article is related to: Oliver Stone, Features, The Essentials, Savages


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