Oliver Stone and the persistence of false memories, part 4.

18 Oct

4. From Ron Kovic to Jim Morrison.

Stone made Born on the 4th of July next, and it is a brutish, challenging, frustrating, and well, sort of boring film. It follows real life Ron Kovic, a Vietnam vet paralyzed from the waste down. The Vietnam segment is strong, but the bulk of the movie is tedious, shoving the viewer’s face into the systemic degradation of Kovic (played with some skill but no subtlety by Tom Cruise). It’s a brave movie in a way—it refuses to offer up any kind of easy redemption, or allow Kovic any real happiness. But it’s a tough watch, too long and meandering; near the end of the film, Cruise and fellow paraplegic John Savage fight, in the desert, and topple their wheelchairs into the sand.

Stone at this point was still a filmmaker worth watching, although like many other directors, the long biopic defeated him. (It’s a problem of scale, trying to fit a whole life into two hours. The key is to find a short period that captures the essence of a person’s life.) The film is a pungent anti-war movie, but it’s preachy and inelegant. I couldn’t watch it again.

Stone learned nothing from his errors, however, for his next film was the biggest dog of them all.

Stone’s most pungent anti-war film is also preachy, affected, and too damn long.

The Doors is a real snooze of a movie, worth watching only to see Val Kilmer’s vanity peeking through what is, admittedly, quite a fine rendition of Jim Morrison. The movie suffers from the same thing almost all biopics suffer from: the subjects are treated with such hagiographic adoration, it’s hard to see and know the Doors’ true value. Meg Ryan isn’t believable at all as the drugged up groupie. And the music scenes with the band are just corny. The movie looks cheap.

The straight characters—the suits and businessmen and conservative peoples—are handled with total disdain. Most rock n roll movies handle these types in the same exact fashion. (Never mind that when he heard the Beatles for the first time, Frank Sinatra kicked his radio to pieces with the heel of his Italian shoe.) The Doors sets up a familiar, false dichotomy. On one side you have freedom-loving, drug-using, intellectuals who love freedom and sexual expression. On the other you have closed off, unhappy, bitter and sexually repressed assholes who want to thwart your freedom at every turn. It’s bad writing, and too easy. (Mad Men  has, in a sense, spent its entire series trying to combat this stereotype.)

Val Kilmer channeling his inner Morrison in a movie that is neither controversial nor interesting.

Stone refuses to allow that there might be some legitimate concern over controversial subject matter on television, or that these boring squares could have inner lives at all. He bullies the characters, which I know is an odd thing to say about a writer-director. But these are based on composites of real people; good writers provide context and insight into their villains’ hearts and minds. Stone instead punches up little bean counters and television executives as small-minded plebes. It’s simple, unsophisticated writing.

He’s better than this, anyone with half a brain is.

In the final tally, the film has no real focus with which we can view Morrison or the Doors, no anchor, no method of measurement. It’s an indulgent picture, and a profound misfire. But there was still hope. Rumors swirled about his next movie, an unwinding of the assassination of President Kennedy, a movie that promised answers to the plaguing doubts of the official story.


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