Rating: The Good – 70.1 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 131 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Benicio Del Toro
Oliver Stone has to work hard these days to make up for two decades of over-stylised not to mention confused pictures and such is the reason that this surprisingly slick crime feature fared poorly both critically as well as commercially. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Hitsch star as two wildly successful cannabis dealers on the California drug scene who come up against a ruthless cartel attempting to stake their claim north of the border. As the genius botanist, Taylor-Johnson is the brains of the operation while Hitsch’s former Navy SEAL is the enforcer and together they engage Salma Hayek’s drug lord in a bloody chess game as they attempt to secure the release of their hostage girlfriend Blake Lively. Factor in an utterly loathsome and genuinely scary Benicio Del Toro as Hayek’s right-hand man and you’re left with a colourfully twisted little thriller. Nested in Lively’s inevitably stylised visual narration, Stone allows the energetic if sometimes clunky script to play out in a relatively coherent manner as he shows the most directorial restraint he’s managed since Born on the Fourth of July. Make no mistake, it’s vibrantly shot and edited with flair but with enough discipline for the visual aesthetic to not only be enjoyed, but also be complementary of the well conceived set pieces. On the acting front, the leading threesome (as improbable as their relationship is) are satisfactory without shining and while much fun is had with an overwrought John Travolta’s crooked DEA agent, it never detracts from the the darker tones that Stone’s story paints. It all adds up to a rather satisfying crime thriller that should be judged on the merits of that genre’s most essential elements.
Oliver Stone’s sprawling account of New Orleans’s DA Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination of JFK is a remarkable piece of work. Coming in at three hours long and replete with dialogue heavy scenes and very little action, this film shouldn’t have worked. However, Stone employed a documentary style full of flash backs and hypothetical re-enactments laced together with quick paced explanatory dialogue which was for the time a revolutionary approach to making a feature. He also populated the expansive story with a seemingly endless array of big name actors which itself was a masterstroke as it allowed the audience to easily remember the various personalities who popped in and out of the narrative. Kevin Costner is terrific as Garrison and carries almost the entire film as he features in nearly every scene. The rest of the cast are excellent while John Williams throws in with a nice little score. However, in the final analysis, this film is ultimately about the Stone’s direction, his and Zachary Sklar’s screenplay, and Joe Hutshing’s and Pietro Scalia’s peerless editing.
Rating: The Good – 72.4 Genre: Sporting Drama Duration: 162 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx
Oliver Stone changed his directorial style during the making of JFK where the telling of a long-winded complex story benefited from a quick, edit-heavy style. Unfortunately, he imposed this style on every subsequent picture he made whether it warranted it or not. And given that most films do not warrant it and from the point of view of his career, he became a worse director for it. However, Any Given Sunday is exactly the type of project that benefits from this style and so his penchant and genuine skill in putting large scale stories to film elevates what could’ve been a disaster into a thoroughly engaging and riveting tale of a franchise American football team struggling to reach the highs of its recent past by overcoming the egos of players and management alike. Granted, if you’re into sports, Any Given Sunday will be all the more enjoyable but being as it is, full of acting heavy weights you typically find attached to a Stone project, this film just plain works even without a love of sports. Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, and James Woods all do particularly well but this is Al Pacino’s movie from start to finish and there’s that “inches” speech to prove it.
Rating: The Good – 83.4 Genre: Drama Duration: 126 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah
Oliver Stone’s story of stock trading and the high life in 1980′s New York stars Charlie Sheen as the ambitious young trader who catches the attention of the greed celebrating master of the universe Michael Douglas and is recruited into the attractive but perilous world of insider trading. Naturally, it isn’t long before he realises that he is nothing more than food for the big fish as his lavish lifestyle begins to have professional and emotional consequences.
Rarely has a film captured the essence of a time and place like this one. Robert Richardson’s cinematography gives the city a life of its own (check out those early morning and late evening shots) particularly when accompanied by Stewart Copeland’s perfectly weighted score. The acting is generally first rate and even the much maligned Daryl Hannah’s performance seems in retrospect to be perfectly in keeping with the vacuous spirit of the times. Martin Sheen is brilliant as the working class father roped into his son’s wheeling and dealings while his son Charlie (real life and on-screen) brings just the right amount of arrogance and vulnerability to the role. Of course, Wall Street is Michael Douglas’ film from start to finish as he devours the scenery and everything else in his vicinity. His iconic portrayal of Gordon Gekko perfectly captured the greed of corporate America and in doing so, it rightly garnered him an Oscar.
Stone’s directorial style changed dramatically in the 1990′s as if to keep up with the inane quick cuts and angled shots of the MTV movie making generation (a style that’s only ever served him well in JFK and Any Given Sunday) but this film proves he had all the patience and skill of the very best directors. Rather than relying on quick cuts between shots he lets the sharp dialogue set the pace (kudos to co-writer Stanley Weiser) and when combined with the great central performances the result is a captivating and thoughtful exploration of greed and ambition that resonates to this day.
Rating: The Good – 75.3 Genre: War Duration: 120 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe
Oliver Stone’s most personal film sees him visit the subject of the Vietnam war which he himself fought in. Charley Sheen stars as a young recruit who finds himself amongst a group of soldiers whose loyalties are divided between two enigmatic but very different platoon leaders. Sheen is very good in the lead but it’s Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe who make it so memorable as the hard boiled and murderous Sergeant Barnes and the inspirational and idealistic Sergeant Elias (respectively). The two actors are tremendous and each give iconic level performances. Stone captures both the boredom and terror of war superbly with the battle scenes in particular being truly sensational. His script is faultless striking the perfect balance between drama and reality. There are an array of top supporting actors on show who combine with the principals to makes this one of the better cinematic ensemble pieces.
Rating: The Bad – 59.5 Genre: Drama Duration: 133 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan
For a director who underwent such a dramatic shift in style from JFK onward, it was always going to be fascinating to see if, while revisiting a film he made in the 80′s, Stone would adopt the more patient and story-centred approach that made that film and his earlier films so good. Well in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he did and he didn’t. Many of the film’s scenes are given the time to grow naturally as Stone (for the most part) resists his usual craving for frenetic edits and short lens shots. There is a (somewhat) trackable story and the abrupt interjection of source music is kept to an acceptable level. There are even shades of the exciting stock manipulation sequences that made the original so tense. As with the first film, Stone manages to make New York look great while not overdoing it on the aerial or wide cityscape shots.
For every similarity with Wall Street, however, there are many differences. There are split screen shots galore as well as bubble (sigh) and laser graphics floating through various scenes the likes of which never featured in the original. But the fact that this film has a different style and feel to it is not necessarily a problem. This isn’t Wall Street 2, it’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, part sequel and part stand-alone film. Instead, the real problems centre on the disconnect between the personal story Stone is trying to tell about Shia LaBeouf, Carrie Mulligan (as Gekko’s daughter) and Michael Douglas (as the great man himself) and the wider story of the economic collapse of 2008. These stories are separated by just too wide a scale to comprehensively parallel one another. As a result, the film loses coherence and comes across as a number of different and only slightly related stories. This isn’t going to be the iconic film that Wall Street turned out to be. It’s not nearly as complete or coherent a story and it’s made by a director who has lost much of his subtlety and directorial class. However, this film does feature the return of one of cinema’s most iconic characters, Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, and an interesting story-arc brings something new to this character. Alas, Stone chickens out and deprives us of an ending that would have given this most intriguing of characters a near perfect return to form. Gekko deserved better!