[18 October 2005]
Hi, Oliver. Your kids didn’t think you’d be home for another half-hour. I hope you don’t mind that so many of us decided to swing by. Brian De Palma looks pretty comfortable on the loveseat. Michael Douglas should be out of the bathroom in a minute. Colin Farrell and Charlie Sheen even decided to carpool. Yeah, I’m not sure which one of them I’d want driving, either.
So, um, I guess you’re wondering what we’re all doing here and why there are so many of us in your living room. The guys wanted me to do the talking, and… well… I guess I should spit it out before Willem Dafoe takes over…
Oliver Stone, this is your intervention.
Now don’t worry, we’re not here to focus on your reported substance abuse problems over the years, or your occasional brushes with the law. We’re not ones to talk. Hell, Ray was nominated for six Oscars last year, and that movie would only have been 25 minutes long if Ray Charles hadn’t been an addict.
Unlike most interventions you’re likely to have witnessed or received, this one is about your professional life. We’re concerned about you as a filmmaker, Oliver.
We’ve watched you stagnate and regress for almost 15 years, now. Your forays into American history have declined steadily from Platoon to Born on the Fourth of July to JFK. By the time you got to the 192-minute Nixon, you raged so far out of control with your conspiracy theories and narrative bludgeoning that your abuse of power overshadowed Nixon’s. Meanwhile, your highest profile movie of the last decade was Alexander, a $150+ million budget movie that grossed under $35 million in the US.
To be fair, the movie made another $130 million and change in Europe. But other underperforming epics like King Arthur, Troy, and Kingdom of Heaven all did even better overseas after struggling domestically. So it’s in poor taste when you attribute the movie’s domestic failure to America’s homophobia and young people’s obsession with violence. It might just be that Europe really likes swords, sand, and Colin Farrell not to mention how odd it is for the writer of Scarface and director of Any Given Sunday to criticize American audiences for liking broad, empty, gratuitous entertainment posing as serious filmmaking.
Hey, where do you think you’re going? Oliver, sit down! Val Kilmer spent six months researching his role as Concerned Colleague #7 to prepare for this intervention. Now come back here and listen before we have Al Pacino and Tom Berenger hold you down. This is for your own good.
You haven’t had a major hit since JFK in 1991. Any Given Sunday performed decently, but it was hardly a smash, and unlike much of your other work, wasn’t well suited to the foreign audiences you seem so eager to embrace. Natural Born Killers made back its budget, but now is mostly known for being the Tarantino script that Oliver Stone mangled. In 1993, you even managed with Heaven and Earth to make a Vietnam movie that nobody saw. Those used to be your strong suit.
Not that commercial success is the end all be all, but box office failure has only fed your public persona. It’s not only your movies that have become a caricature of your excesses. Stop talking about how your father took you to a prostitute to lose your virginity. Don’t be so publicly supportive of Fidel Castro when the man has just had a bunch of dissenters executed. Quit getting caught with drugs it looks bad when the self-ordained voice of the Baby Boomers acts like a bad stereotype of one. And for God’s sake, when you cast a 29-year old Angelina Jolie to play 28-year old Colin Farrell’s mother, don’t accuse Americans of not liking Alexander because they wanted something less realistic.
We don’t mean to join the ranks of press that have taken all too much joy in flogging you. You wanted to make big, controversial movies, and in doing so you’ve become one of the most famous directors in the world. You should be willing to shoulder criticism, particularly when you put out lackluster product. But our point isn’t to beat you up about it. We’re here in your living room to help set you straight for your comeback. Your next movie is going to be important, not just for you but for Hollywood. You’ve signed on to make the first big 9/11 movie, and it’s either going to be great or it’s going to be the worst thing you’ve done.
We don’t think it’s too soon to make a 9/11 movie. In War of the Worlds, it sure looked like Spielberg wanted to make one, from the airplane wreckage to Dakota Fanning crying “Is it the terrorists?” And Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Supremacy, is slated to make a movie about Flight 93. The right director might be able to make an effective 9/11 movie that audiences can embrace. You found insight and compassion in the horrors of Vietnam. You might be just the right person to handle this task, too.
You have to tread carefully, though. You can’t make this into a conspiracy theory movie. You can’t make it an empty suspense thriller. While your Vietnam movies are, for the most part, very good, they weren’t about recovery. They emphasized the horror and destructive effects of the war, not only on its dead, but on those who survived and had to persevere it. 9/11 doesn’t need that movie. We have constant reminders of that every day from airport security to presidential speeches to bad country music to the giant hole still present in your hometown.
Oliver, you’ve taken a beating these last few years, and none of us have been happy to see it. Some of it is your own fault, some of it not. But now you have an opportunity to really make the most of your abilities. You have a strong voice, which we need now more than ever. You’ve already enlisted Nicolas Cage, who’s been on his own journey to reclaim his soul with daring movies like Adaptation and Lord of War (though National Treasure was a bit like a recovering alcoholic having 15 drinks). You’ve also reportedly have Maria Bello and Michael Pena attached. Glad to see one of Hollywood’s best actresses and a promising actor on the rise involved.
Of course, Maggie Gyllenhaal is also involved, which is dangerous after her controversial and ill-timed remarks that she believed America was “responsible in some way” for the 9/11 attacks. This movie is already straining under the load of being an Oliver Stone movie. It seems odd to add further baggage.
But this is all stuff you have to juggle on your own. You’ve alienated people, you’ve made bad decisions, and you’ve been met with unanticipated failure in the last decade. Don’t screw up now when you’re dealing with more sensitive material than you’ve handled since your earliest Vietnam work.
Look around your living room. Look at the concerned faces. Look at the furrowed brows… er… brow on Colin Farrell. We’re people who want to see you return to form. Stop the interviews and stop harping on your critics. They were just trying to get you to do what we’re doing now. Focus on your work and do right by this movie.
Otherwise, we’ll pay you another house call. And you really don’t want to see Charlie Sheen behind the wheel, again.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/posner051019/