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Stone actually started out as a screenwriter. Along with writing the script for Platoon after his tour of duty in Vietnam was over, he also wrote the screenplay for Midnight Express in 1978 (which won him his first Academy Award) and Scarface in 1983, and co-wrote Conan the Barbarian with director John Milius (incidentally, Milius was also the screenwriter of Apocalypse Now, one of the most famous movies about the Vietnam War other than Platoon). However, Stone's directorial debuts were rather less impressive, consisting of schlocky low-budget horror flicks like Seizure (1974) and The Hand (1981). Unsurprisingly for the writer of movies like Scarface, Stone was a heavy user of cocaine; by his own admission he became an addict, although he eventually cut down on his consumption when he realised "it was hurting [his] writing".
The Vietnam Trilogy
A fictional story based heavily on Stone's experiences during the war, the 1986 film centers on a Marine (played by Charlie Sheen, well before he lost all grip on reality) who quits college and serves in the war to escape expectations his family puts on him, only to be flung into situations that work to destroy his innocence. The film is quite masterful, showing the talent Stone undoubtedly has for narrative and symbolism, and even appeals to viewers of all political leanings. "Stone initially wanted to film Platoon in Vietnam, but Vietnamese authorities prevented this because of the way the movie would depict their troops." Instead, filming took place in the Philippines, the same location which Francis Ford Coppola used for Apocalypse Now, due to its abundance of American military equipment and cheap labour. However, the production almost fell apart due to the revolution against President Ferdinand Marcos, which occured in February 1986.
Born on the Fourth of July
Based on the memoir of the same name by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, the film portrays Kovic (played by Tom Cruise in saner days and in what is arguably his greatest ever performance) serving in the war, his guilt from killing a fellow Marine in a friendly fire incident, his being paralyzed by a gunshot wound during a Viet Cong ambush, and his struggle to find meaning and reconcile his youthful enthusiasm with mature disillusionment, resulting in his becoming an anti-war activist. Kovic co-wrote the script with Stone, and the film only takes two real liberties with the truth: giving Kovic a girlfriend who never existed and creating a scene where he spoke to the family of the man he accidentally killed, which never took place. Though it is tame compared with his later fast-and-loose portrayal of the facts, these deviations were very controversial at the time of the film's release in 1989. As with Platoon, "Stone wanted to make the movie in Vietnam, but relations with that country and the U.S. were still frosty after the war", so the Philippines were used again.
Heaven & Earth
In the third of his trilogy Stone attempted to show the war from the Vietnamese point of view, but it seemed his bro fans weren't interested in the life of a Vietnamese woman. Based on two books by Le Ly Hayslip, it tells the story of a woman who goes from the horrors of war to become a prostitute in Saigon and then a war bride, married to an American soldier, and moving to the US, where she's treated horribly by her husband. Fun fun fun, in other words. It received mixed reviews, with praise for star Hiep Thi Le, but many critics felt it was too much the story of a passive woman having lots of bad shit happen to her; technically it was unevenly structured, and sometimes awkward, particularly in its portrayal of Vietnamese life. Nonetheless it's one of the few times Stone has focused on a female character, and he managed it with some success. Unlike Stone's previous films in the trilogy, some of the footage was actually shot in Vietnam; although principal filming took place in Thailand "after the [Vietnamese] government objected to any anti-Vietcong messages in the film", a small crew "travelled Vietnam under the guise of a documentary crew filming a story on Le Ly. In fact they were shooting some of the amazing landscapes and lush verdant foliage that make up part of the opening montage".
The Presidential Trilogy
In 1991 Stone released JFK, about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy based on the book On the Trail of the Assassins by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. The film suggests a vast conspiracy carried out by our military industrial complex, Mafia, CIA, FBI and LBJ. He also lionized Garrison as a hero and loving if absentee family man, when many sources, including books such as Patricia Lambert's False Witness, show that Garrison was a zealot who broke the law, abused his wife, destroyed lives, ruined the credibility of the conspiracy movement (or at least what little it had to begin with), and launched the investigation primarily to deflect from his alleged connections to the Mafia. Stone also left out the fact that at the time, Garrison described the case as "a homosexual thrill-killing". In fact, "[w]hen [Stone] consulted with members of the loosely knit community of Kennedy assassination researchers, many of them devout believers that a conspiracy had taken John F. Kennedy's life, the filmmaker found many of them equally horrified about his choice of Garrison as his movie's centerpiece." Conspiracy author Anthony Summer wrote that Garrison's investigation "has long been recognized by virtually everyone -- including serious scholars who believe there was a conspiracy -- as a grotesque, misdirected shambles", while Harold Weisberg stated that "Jim Garrison's investigation was a fraud".
Stone, for his part, has defended the film and his portrayal of Garrison. Garrison himself played Earl Warren in the film (how ironic). Public reaction to the film caused Congress to enact the JFK Records Act and establish the Assassination Records Review Board, which released almost all records of the investigation by October 2017. Researcher Dave Reitzes has exhaustively catalogued the film's numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.
In 1995, Stone released a follow-up about Richard Nixon. Taking even more liberties with the facts, the film implies Nixon (played by
Hannibal Lecter Anthony Hopkins) was an alcoholic pill popper who felt responsible for the assassination of JFK, which led to the Watergate scandal. This Nixon incarnation is also portrayed as paranoid over the idea that the CIA may assassinate him like (he thinks) they may have with JFK. Although "Nixon did use alcohol and did use sleeping pills", the rest is a stretch, to say the least. Needless to say, Nixon's family were not happy (although the man himself could not sue for libel, as he had died the previous year).
The last entry in the trilogy is the 2008 film W., based on the Saturday Night Live sketch starring Will Ferrell about George W. Bush. It wrongfooted people who expected a searing denunciation of Bush. Instead it was a more complex, nuanced portrait of Dubya (played by
Thanos Josh Brolin) as a man with no particular skills other than an innate belief that he was bound for glory. It has some interesting things to say about the WASPy privilege of the Bush clan and as an implicit critique of myths of American greatness: this isn't the story of a flawed man who comes of age at a time of crisis (9/11) but of an incompetent if slightly charismatic man who conspicuously fails to rise to the occasion. Bad luck, America. The film received mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office. Bush reportedly liked the film. There have also been questions over the factual accuracy of various elements but it appears mostly truthful: Bush reportedly is a big fan of Cats and crashing cars, and Donald Rumsfeld passed the time in meetings by doodling, although it's not clear whether Bush got a girl pregnant and arranged for her to have an abortion (which was then illegal in Texas).
The film came to embody the excesses of 1980s Corporate America, especially in Michael Douglas' portrayal of Gordon Gekko, who repeats to everyone the mantra that "Greed is good." A later unnecessary sequel did not fare as well.
Released the same year as JFK, the film is the first of Stone's many inaccurate biopics, in this case about Jim Morrison, the frontman of The Doors. Starring Val Kilmer as Morrison, the film portrays him as a drunken asshole with an incredibly sick and perverted imagination, out of which happened to come poetic songs. It also takes an incident Morrison recalled about seeing dead Native Americans on a highway (and the parenthetical statement that a shaman's soul entered his body and became his muse) to ridiculous levels, including scenes of said shaman standing next to him on stage or running away when his body dies in a Paris bathtub. The other three members of the band spoke out against the film to differing extents, most notably keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who spent various sections of his 1998 autobiography venting against Stone.
Natural Born Killers
Starring Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers tells the story of a severely twisted couple going on a violent murder spree and subsequently becoming a media sensation. Because of the many violent stories that dominated the media in the early 1990s Stone altered the original story to become a satirical attack on modern media. The film caused a moral panic and has been accused of inspiring no less than a dozen copycat acts including Columbine. Stone called it a "very optimistic film about the future. It's about freedom, and the ability of every human being to get it." The film was actually based on a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino, who initially tried to direct it himself before selling the script to a couple of producers in 1992, just before he made Reservoir Dogs (he even tried to buy it back after becoming famous, but the producers refused to sell it to him). However, it was heavily rewritten by Stone and others, so the final film bears little resemblance to what Tarantino envisaged, and he was simply given a "Story by" credit. Apparently, Tarantino hated Stone's take on his idea. "I wish [Stone] had just fucking ripped it off," he said at the time, and proceeded to disown the final product". "I hated that fucking movie. If you like my stuff, don't watch that movie."
Like his other biopics, this film of the life of Alexander the Great missed the mark wildly, especially about his family and his personal life. Unlike the other ones, which were compelling and incredibly well-assembled, this film was notorious as a bloated and dull exercise in filmmaking, with performances that didn't stand out (except for Angelina Jolie attempting in vain to speak in an accent that has not existed for millennia). Stone has re-released the film on DVD and Blu-ray several times in several "Director's cuts" in an attempt to rehabilitate the film.
World Trade Center
Strangely, Stone's film about 9/11 was not a conspiracy rant, but a focus on two firemen trapped below the rubble of the Twin Towers, waiting to be rescued, and reminiscing about their personal lives up to that point. Critics and audiences alike were dumbfounded at a film about the biggest attack in American history and not making it the focus, or giving an impression of what that day meant. It fared poorly against Paul Greengrass's universally praised film United 93.
Snowden and cancelled MLK project
Stone's 2016 movie about Edward Snowden seemed like a return to his controversial roots; in order to make it, he scrapped another of his projects, a biopic about Martin Luther King. The movie is based on two books: The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. It received a muted critical reaction (60% on Rotten Tomatoes): the consensus was that while it was technically fine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was good as Snowden, it didn't add much to Laura Poitras's acclaimed documentary Citizenfour, and was lacking both in drama and in condemnation of the surveillance state.
AmeriKKKa's most unwanted
Finding it harder to make films or get anyone to watch them after the box office bombing of Snowden, he has increasingly worked in documentary, generally leaning heavily on friendly interviews with controversial world leaders, which are cheap to film and guaranteed at least a bit of press coverage. These included studies of his mates Fidel Castro, in Comandante (2003), and Hugo Chávez, in Mi Amigo Hugo (2014). He also directed The Untold History of the United States (2012), a 12-episode documentary series about America's imperialistic shenanigans since World War II in the spirit of Howard Zinn, and Ukraine on Fire (2016), in which Stone argues Russia was justified in annexating Crimea.
In 2017, Stone released a series of four 1-hour interviews with Vladimir Putin, The Putin Interviews. The interviews consist of mainly softball questions from Stone, resulting in what is basically propaganda.
- Heaven & Earth, Rotten Tomatoes
- Heaven And Earth (1993), Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com, December 24, 1993
- Review/Film: Heaven and Earth; A Woman's View Of Vietnam Horrors, Janet Maslin, New York Times, Dec 24, 1993
- Lavington, Stephen (2004). Oliver Stone. London: Virgin Books. p. 178. ISBN 0 7535 0975 X.
- Thanks to the Onion, Americans already knew this
- Trump releases some, but not all, JFK assassination records by Jeremy Diamond & Kevin Liptak (Updated 8:04 AM ET, Fri October 27, 2017) CNN.
- Revisiting Hours: ‘W.’ and the Age of Incompetence, Tim Grierson, Rolling Stone
- Fact Checking Oliver Stone's W., Larry Carroll, MTV, 10/08/2008
- "Director’s Commentary (DVD Extra)
- Snowden, Rotten Tomatoes, accessed 8 Oct 2019
- ‘Snowden’ Review: Oliver Stone’s Whistleblower Biopic Isn’t Crazy Enough, Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- Comandante, IMDb
- Mi Amigo Hugo, IMDb
- Oliver Stone defended Vladimir Putin to Stephen Colbert. The audience laughed at him by Stephanie Merry (June 13 at 9:54 AM) The Washington Post.