MISSING THE POINT: In his quest to make an apolitical movie, Stone played right into the hands of the people he once despised.
Oliver Stone can’t catch a break. He makes a few movies colored by political agendas and freewheeling speculation and everyone calls him a conspiracy nut for politicizing his subjects. So he makes a movie on a politically loaded subject and tries really, really hard not to make it political, and he’s still called a conspiracy nut, this time for not politicizing his subject.
To wit: a bunch of 9/11 “theorists,” who argue that 9/11 was an “inside job” pulled off by “Skull and Bones … the Mormon Church … Catholic Pedophile Priests … FEMA … Rosicrucians … and Animal Human Hybrids,” among others, have attacked the director for whitewashing what they see as crucial cover-ups in his latest film, World Trade Center. They are calling for a boycott. “Was Stone used by the Illuminati as an unknowing pawn?” asks a group headed by the Christian Branch of the 9/11 Truth Movement in a press release, as quoted on the Web site rawstory.com. The group is best known for calling for a Christian boycott of Jessica Simpson, whom they describe as a “singing stripper.” Her connection to the Illuminati and 9/11 is left tantalizingly unclear.
Personally, I was expecting more widespread and legitimate expressions of disappointment with the film. Surely legions of Stone’s fans, and even his detractors, were expecting him to say, if not something outrageous, at least something of substance about the most important and controversial story in America since, well, the Kennedy assassination. After all, he’s put in his two cents worth about everything else that matters in world events and national issues over the past 20 years.
But things have changed in the world, and certainly in the world of conspiracy theory, since Stone’s JFK came out in 1991. When a left-leaning Web site like Raw Story in effect attributes all doubts about the official explanation of 9/11 to a bunch of religious nutjobs, it seems likely that large audiences are not going to embrace a big-budget movie pushing a similarly conspiratorial point of view. Even from a filmmaker whose consistent draw has been his ability to arouse anger and debate. Stone’s last film, the epic Alexander, tanked disastrously. So why be surprised that he decided to follow it up with one designed to ingratiate himself with all and offend no one? No one, that is, except those who bought into his opening epigraph in JFK: “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”
And, when you come down to it, much of Stone’s reputation for being an outrageous maverick doesn’t stand up on closer examination. He burst on the scene with Platoon (1986), which at the time — in the depths of the cloud of unknowing that was the Reagan administration — seemed an astoundingly brave revelation of the brutal truth about the war in Vietnam. It was indeed the first film about the war made by someone who fought there, and the authenticity of the combat scenes and some of the dialogue endures.
But otherwise, time does not treat Platoon well, despite its Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Like its artier predecessors The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), it batters the facts not into a conspiracy theory but into a pseudo-tragic allegory, one that should have seemed embarrassingly sophomoric even then.
Nonetheless, Platoon’s triumph marked Stone as a filmmaker who was willing to show the truth, however unsettling. To quote a line from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, a film that came out the same year and was perhaps more deserving of honors, this seemed like moviemaking capable of “seeing something that was always hidden.”
Such a characterization might apply more fittingly to another film Stone made in 1986, Salvador. In it James Woods starred as down-and-out, real-life journalist Richard Boyle (he co-wrote the screenplay), who, desperate to turn his life around, drives to the Central American country of the title with his druggie sidekick, played by Jim Belushi. It’s Fear and LoathingMeets theDeath Squads, and despite being derivative of such previous films as Missing, its lurid authenticity, rollicking pace, and political prescience — it came out the same year as the Iran-Contra scandal — remain vital today. It scored with critics but not with audiences, and earned a couple of Oscar nominations (Best Actor, Best Screenplay) probably on the coattails of Platoon. But audiences didn’t buy it. It was too immediate, too real, too close to what they were seeing on depressing news broadcasts.