Over the Hill

Oliver Stone: Older, Wiser, and Worse

October 11, 2010

Oliver Stone: Older, Wiser, and Worse

A cinematic development I hadn’t expected is Oliver Stone evolving into a director who makes movies that are fair, responsible, and forgettable. His sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, with Michael Douglas returning as reptilian financier Gordon Gekko, falls squarely into all three categories.

Stone was once a media darling who won three Oscars, writing Midnight Express in 1978 and directing Platoon in 1986 and Born on the Fourth of July in 1989. Yet scandals over two movies made at the peak of his powers, JFK in 1991 and Natural Born Killers in 1994, have left Stone gun-shy.

Until JFK, the press accepted and even encouraged Kennedy assassination conspiracy-theorizing. After all, Lee Harvey Oswald’s biography, with his myriad clandestine contacts, does sound pretty fishy. (The most sensible explanation is that Oswald wanted to be part of a conspiracy but scared off his various would-be co-conspirators.)

A formidable technical feat, JFK was well-received initially, earning eight Oscar nominations. Yet rather than merely poke holes in the Warren Report, Stone, with his too-much-is-never-enough urge, mashed together two incompatible theories. He chillingly dramatized Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty’s contention that the entire military-industrial complex had mobilized its vast resources to hire (in New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s issues-laden imagination) some French Quarter flamers to carry out the operation. JFK eventually became a byword for everything the press despised.

After Natural Born Killers, an unfunny but mesmerizing satire about a thrill-kill couple, came out on video, it became various pointless murderers’ favorite movie. One young couple watched NBK on drugs and then randomly shot an old friend of John Grisham’s. The popular novelist sponsored a product-liability lawsuit against Stone. It went through four rounds in the courts before the maximalist director was in the clear.

“Money Never Sleeps continues Stone’s practice of middlebrow free association, as if he were perusing Wikipedia on acid.”


Surprisingly, Stone has taken some of the criticism to heart. Thus, his recent history-inspired films have been less contrived than, say, The Social Network. Stone’s 2008 biopic about George W. Bush, W, which used mostly public utterances as private dialogue, plausibly blamed the Iraq War on the younger Bush’s Daddy Issues, something Stone knows all about.

Stone’s new movie fictionalizing 2008’s Great Crash is informative and reasonable, with the conspiracy-theorizing kept to the margins. The financial industry, Stone concludes (echoing his old-fashioned stockbroker father whose 1985 death inspired the first Wall Street), should raise capital for industry, not indulge in speculation.


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