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The Films Of Oliver Stone: A Retrospective

by The Playlist Staff
July 5, 2012 11:05 AM
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"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” (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" (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-]

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  • easy company | July 6, 2012 10:53 PMReply

    his best film-born on the 4th
    my favorite-the doors

  • Chris138 | July 6, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    Born on the Fourth of July is far and away Oliver Stone's best movie to date, with Nixon not too far behind it. I also liked JFK, but I still don't understand how Tommy Lee Jones got an Oscar nod for his rather forgettable work in that film (at least to me it was). I thought Gary Oldman was far more memorable and deserving of his nomination that year.

    Platoon is his most overrated, and I'm glad to see it not getting as high of praises here as it does elsewhere. There are definitely some powerful moments contained within the movie, but overall the experience comes off as heavy-handed and even a bit stodgy at times. I'm well aware that subtlety has never been one of Stone's strong points, but I feel it comes off more annoyingly in Platoon than in a lot of his other work. It just hasn't aged well to me, especially compared to other Vietnam classics such as Apocalypse Now.

  • Tobias Bowman | July 6, 2012 9:00 AMReply

    Excellent retrospective. Oliver Stone has always been hit and miss for me, I lean more towards his biopics. There is a theme running through most of the films that fell down, the scripts were written by Stone on his own or with a weaker writer. Most of the great films Stone directed were co-written with stronger writers or technical advisers. E.G JFK - awesome - Zach Sklar a journalist and a professor of journalism/U-Turn - missable - John Ridley - jobbing TV writer. Savages is with Don Winslow and Shane Salerno, which points to the fact it is going to be poor.

  • JD | July 6, 2012 5:49 AMReply

    You guys got so many things wrong here that it would take longer then the director's cut of Alexander to list them (just a few: ignoring Stone's work as a screenwriter, except for one mention of Scarface; forgetting Seizure and The Hand; labeling Platoon as "irrelevant"; saying Natural Born Killers has no story; describing The Doors as being "shot and edited like a TV movie" (!??!?); however, you recognize Nixon as being Stone's unacknowledged masterpiece, and that alone justifies this entire article.

  • Matthew Dowd | July 6, 2012 1:09 AMReply

    Matthew Dowd says: Oliver Stone is CIA.

  • AS | July 5, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    Talk Radio has always been my favorite of his. I also love Natural Born Killers, JFK, U Turn and 2/3 of Nixon.

  • Ken | July 5, 2012 1:46 PMReply

    In my view, Platoon, Wall Street, and JFK are undeniable classics. Natural Born Killers is Stone at his most psychotic and (in my opinion) enjoyable. Born on the Fourth of July is great too. The rest of his filmography is spotty, but he was like Rob Reiner and Barry Levinson. Filmmakers who could do no wrong in the '80s and early '90s and then fell off.

  • tristan eldritch | July 5, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    "What could have been an interesting and in-depth look at a tortured musician battling America's prudish and naive idealism...."

    I'm a huge Morrison fan, and Stone's film remains a guilty pleasure for me since I was a kid. The fact is, Morrison simply wasn't a "tortured musician battling America's prudish and naive idealism"; he was a narcissistic, booze and drugs-drenched ROCK STAR, and Stone's film is somewhat closer to the reality for not trying to make him into some kind of Lenny Bruce.

  • Phil Esteen | July 11, 2012 3:38 PM


    To be a 'huge Morrison fan,' your view of the movie seems a little dismissive and simplistic, but this isn't personal because I believe most Stone movies are panned by reductionists who are uncomfortable with Stone's tenacious and uncompromising grip on a subject. Oliver Stone does not use a soft and delicate stroke like Rembrandt, he's more like LeRoy Neiman.

    Nonetheless, reducing Morrison to a drug-addled rock star doesn't seem fair at all. I'm not a big Morrison fan, but the guy was an obvious poet who was both sickened by the excesses of the rock star lifestyle and enamored of the whole Dionysian legend. Morrisson was proud of his poetry, not so much of his shenanigans. This conflict captured Stone's imagination for Jim Morrison and it is one of the details about his life that he wanted to translated to the screen.

    I adored the movie, but I certainly understand a certain wariness about Stone's approach.

  • Marrrk | July 5, 2012 3:37 PM

    I've always found the best part of The Doors to be the way the band's music is used and interwoven throughout the film. Completely seamless, and always the right choice made between original album cuts or live cuts, Kilmer or Morrison, etc. Plus, many call-outs to instances in the band's music history only a serious fan would recognize. Many a music bio-pic director should take note.

  • daniel | July 5, 2012 1:43 PM

    I agree. Still hate that movie though.

  • brian cardio | July 5, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    Seizure was Stone's debut.

  • rotch | July 5, 2012 11:27 AMReply

    No mention of The Hand? One of my favorite bad horror movies ever, and Michael Caine is pretty solid in it. Also: pretty much agree with all the grades on this list.

  • 1% rule | July 5, 2012 11:15 AMReply

    American imperialism? Fuck off Playlist. Was there no way to add this 1% or 99% bullshit in this? Stone, like you fucks, is just an out-of-touch lib.

  • James | July 5, 2012 5:41 PM

    Ouch! Sensitive on this topic, are you? The lady doth protest too much, methinks... It's not possible to intelligently discuss Stone's films without bringing this topic up.

  • AS | July 5, 2012 1:56 PM

    Right, cause you don't sound out-of-touch at all...

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