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This Week: Oliver Stone films


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Thumb Wars: Oliver Stone's films

Derek and Nick duke it out over director Oliver Stone.

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Oliver Stone gets a bad rap because of his knack for mixing fiction and fact. "JFK" stretched facts around the multiple shooter theory until they fit a narrative, while "The Doors" took creative license with a number of well-documented Jim Morrison events. Yet Stone's critics forget that he's not a historian. Simply put, he's a filmmaker who's out to tell a compelling story of American life. Once you let all claims at history and scholarship float away, Stone's ability as a director shines even brighter. His films expose the country's underbelly in a uniquely patriotic way. His Vietnam arc of "Platoon," "Born on the 4th of July" and "Heaven & Earth" are powerful testaments to a dark period in history. "Wall Street" and "Scarface" (for which he wrote the screenplay) highlight the American dream gone wrong. And "Any Given Sunday" may be flawed, but it's a deeply careful meditation on the role of sports and winning in America. But maybe Oliver Stone's best work is done when he isn't bound by strict historical premise. "Natural Born Killers"'s mixture of "Bonnie and Clyde" with Hell's Angels is as much about the media as it is a pair of psychopaths.

Occasionally, Stone completely tanks (as in "Troy" piggybacking "Alexander"). A few are truly great. But more often, his films are daring incisions into events that shaped our national psyche. He's trying to remove the Warren Commission, Robert McNamara, Richard Nixon and, most recently, Dubya from our minds so we can see the cancer for itself. But these films can't get rid of the whole tumor, rarely can any artistic message. Still, Oliver Stone's narratives are compelling simply because he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

-Derek Sagehorn


In short, here's the Oliver Stone approach to filmmaking: Take a controversial historical figure or event (Richard Nixon, Alexander the Great, Jim Morrison), hire a bankable box-office star for the title role (Anthony Hopkins, Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer), create a fantastical story unhindered by historical accuracy and voila! Admittedly, Stone has built a unique niche in Hollywood-a director who delivers crappy movie after crappy movie to a receptive public. After all, people keep seeing these movies!

It's not just the inaccuracies that are bothersome-it's Stone's blatant disregard for making anything of substance. After seeing "The Doors," it's harder to take Jim Morrison seriously. Listening to Doors songs often conjures images of Val Kilmer's Jim, reduced to a pseudo-artsy buffoon.

The same goes for Nixon, Alexander, George Bush, various Vietnam soldiers-each of whom is reduced to not just unlikable (sometimes deservedly) characters but pathetic ones. Stone attempts to make grandiose stories, but his disregard for accuracy and his love of big-name, overrated actors and special effects never fails to make his movies seem, simply, cheap. For all the money he spent on "Alexander," it's definitely on my and a lot of other people's top 10 "worst movies of all time" lists-and the worst part is that it probably helped his career. Stone knows that all publicity is good publicity and covering a controversial topic is guaranteed box office gold. But honestly, shouldn't you need some sort of license when you take someone's reputation in your hands? Though I suppose that's giving him too much credit. I think people stopped giving credibility to Oliver Stone films a long time ago. I hope that's the case.

-Nick Moore


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