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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 12:10 am

Stone's epic failure

Alexander was an aberration for controversial director

Watching the rare failure of a great director is disheartening, but, considering Oliver Stone’s track record, he can afford a dud such as Alexander. Stone has made many great films, but he will always have a special place in my heart for Natural Born Killers. Alexander stars Colin Farrell as the Macedonian general who conquered most of the civilized world of his time. That should have been the basis for a compelling adventure, but Stone was unable to transcend the clichéd conventions of ancient epics. The characters are too artificial in their manner and dialogue. Why must every conversation in many period films sound like a melodramatic speech? Stone’s experience with war films almost saves the film early on with a spectacular and realistically bloody battle against the much larger Persian Army. Another plus is Stone’s tasteful handling of Alexander’s bisexuality, which caused the film’s greatest controversy. Unfortunately, the positives can’t compensate for the plodding storytelling. Stone first came to prominence as a director with Platoon (1986), but it was actually his fourth feature film. His first features, Seizure (1974) and The Hand (1981), are above-average horror films that received little attention, but Stone successfully applied the elements of that genre to Platoon. Stone was the first Vietnam veteran to make a Vietnam War film, and he used his experience to create a classic of horrific realism. JFK (1991), Stone’s dramatization of the Kennedy assassination, later came under fire for its supposed lack of realism. Critics labeled Stone a conspiracy nut because of the multitude of theories presented, and that unfair moniker has plagued him ever since. No one really knows the facts, so who can rightly call Stone’s film inaccurate? He didn’t invent any of the theories presented, but, as usual, the messenger is the one who is blamed. JFK is one of the best political thrillers ever made. How does one top the controversy of JFK? The answer is Natural Born Killers (1994), one of the most bizarre movies ever released by a major studio. It is also my favorite film of the last 25 years. Stone reinvented himself as an artist by turning all the rules of cinema inside out. His fractured and fragmented visualization of the exploits of a pair of killers on spree will either mesmerize or repel you. Either way, it can’t be forgotten. Stone’s many detractors are probably fearful of his next project, an untitled film about 9/11. I can’t wait.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Sept. 27): Robots, Lords of Dogtown, and Modigliani.
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