Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I’d never seen U-Turn. I’d always heard it was the film where Stone really went off the rails (Is there a director this side of Argento to suffer a more powerful loss of mojo?) so I never bothered with it.

Much to my surprise I found this not to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why this movie is to put it politely an acquired taste. Its about as grotesque as films come. But Jesus man, it just moves.

Oliver Stone is now a filmmaker powerfully out of vogue. At least partially by his own fault. Stone’s spent the last ten years making some powerfully bad movies, whether they be the sad self mockery of Any Given Sunday, the muddled mess that was WTC (which to be fair had the misfortune to come right after United 93 made it a dinosaur), and lets not get started on whatever the fuck Alexander was. Even W. The least terrible movie of the past ten years fumbled because it split the difference between a Black Comedy and serious consideration of the Bush years and ended up making an unsatisfying version of both (Not that the Bush administration wasn’t a black comedy).

Still despite all of this I feel he’s undervalued. From Salvador to Nixon, he has an unbroken run of what to my mind at least are some pretty righteous films. Films like Nixon and JFK are overblown but they’re ambitious, and thrum with a real life. Talk Radio and Heaven On Earth are brute compact little punches of films. And even if his would be classics Born On The Fourth Of July, Wall Street and Platoon are both a bit long in tooth, they remain effective if clumsy films. Natural Born Killer’s remains an underrated film. Effective not because of its violence but what it says about or reaction and Appetite for violence. I’ll take it over Funny Games any day of the week.

Well add U-Turn to the list of winners. Like I said, on many levels U-Turn is a horrifying film. Revolting on an almost physical level. Its like the unholy love child between Jim Thompson and Ralph Steadman. Call it Peyote Noir.

The film starts as Penn cruises the American Southwest in a mustang convertible. On his way to give a payoff to the Gangster in Las Vegas who has been chopping off his fingers. His car breaks down and he makes the mistake of taking it to the worlds most repugnant car mechanic in the world, Billy Bob Thorton.

Thorton who you of course know as the world’s most covetous Tom Petty fan, is just jaw dropping ugly. Rotted Teeth, dirty glasses, hairy navel, caked in so much filth its tough to comprehende. And you better get used to it, as everyone in the film looks that way. Thorton next meets John Voight’s Blind Vietnam Vet Indian (thus fulfilling so many Stone fetishes at once, its shocking that the man’s head didn’t explode) and in case you where wondering, yes we do get many lingering, loving slow motion close-ups of his viscous saliva dribbling from his chin.

I never thought I’d write this but its almost a relief when J. Lo shows up, and there’s something on screen that doesn’t hurt to actually look at. She’s surprisingly entertaining making a good femme fatale, especially in the last reels.

But she’s married to Nick Nolte, who brings a new level of fucked up to the movie. Like an alcholic Jaudiced Bear shaking off the DTs, he looks like he’s spent every moment prior to the movie in a living hell. After beating the shit out of Penn he tries to hire him to kill his wife. After Penn loses the money he owes the gangsters in circumstances too good to spoil, the offer seems attractive.

U-Turn has one hell of a cast, not only Sean Penn, coyote lean and desperate, Nick Nolte, Voight (This is back when you said, “Oh Good John Voight is in this, not “Oh Shit John Voight is in this) Thorton. But Powers Boothe as the man whose either Penn’s guardian angel or his final doom, and a maniac Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix, who play people who apparently roll around all day playing as a psychotic Lil Abner and Daisy May (A swipe at Tarantino perhaps? Who signaled the end of Stone’s kind of ultra modernist filmmaking even before their epic clashes on NBK). Danes and Phoenix are both people who you don’t exactly think of comic genius (Danes is still very sad that Patsy Cline is dead), but both play their rolls to a hilt, Tex Avery Characters reanimated by Steadman.

U Turn proceeds not so much as a story but as a serious of hideous and unfortunate events. Sean Penn plays the kind of character who can’t even buy a beer without having it bite him right in the ass.

Look Stone haters will hate this film. Virtually everything that annoys people about this director, The Indian fetish, the differing film stock (Shot with a true Gonzo insanity by the great Robert Richardson), guttural sound design, and fierce schiziophenic excess, is not only present, but amplified to a sort of horrific overdrive in a way that not even the bat shit insane Doors and Alexander did.

Still I can’t help but find U-Turn a repellently facisnating. Its like something found under a rock. Maybe you should have better sense then to stare at it, but damn it its really something.


Anonymous said...

I've seen this movie a few times - I really like it. I agree, it's pretty revolting, and especially those last frames of Sean Penn. I think the whole thing is supposed to be funny though - in a very dark way, but funny nonetheless. What else can you do but laugh?

Andrew K. said...

Your review is spot on, if you like looking under the rock...you'll like it. JLo was pretty good in this, and it really WAS gruesome. Yikes.

Unknown said...

I haven't seen this film in years and really need to check this one out again. I remember when I first saw this feeling like it was an acid-trip remake of a much superior neo-noir RED ROCK WEST.

How you feel about U-TURN is how I feel about ANY GIVEN SUNDAY - an unholy yet riveting mess of a movie. I think SUNDAY is prolly the last decent thing Stone's done but I hold out hope for WALL STREET 2. As a huge fan of the first film I am eagerly awaiting this one, if only to see Michael Douglas reprise his most famous role.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Gore Gore Girl: Precisely.

@AEE Heh, yeah aside from Out Of Sight I'd figure this for J Lo.'s best.

@ JD: Any Given Sunday is fun for the scene where Cameron Diaz dares a naked man to get an erection around her.

Don't ask me why but I've got a good feeling for Wall Street 2.

Anonymous said...

It's always been odd to me how J-Lo turned out. This was the first film I saw her in. At that point, I had never heard of her or her music, so this was my first exposure to her. I always thought she would be a legitimate actress based on this performance. Three years later I saw The Cell. The cell to me was like a serial killers nightmare as seen through the eyes of Terry Gilliam, like Brazil in another dimension. It had a few solid moments, she definitely wasn't the worst person in it. I thought Vince Vaughn was an odd choice, but he didn't F' it up to badly. All in all, I thought she would do something from there. Disapointing -Cameron-

Bryce Wilson said...

Yeah I wasn't crazy about The Cell. Liked The Fall alot better.

The funny thing about The Cell is you can tell Vaughn just wants to have a martini and cigarette in hand in every scene.

Neil Fulwood said...

"Sean Penn plays the kind of character who can’t even buy a beer without having it bite him right in the ass."

Nicely put! You sum up the nightmarish dream-logic of the film so well in this statement. It really does play out like a Jim Thomson scenario relocated to Twin Peaks, minus the likeable quirkiness and the high on peyote.

I've not seen 'U-Turn' in ages, but there are images and scenes from the film which are simply unforgettable. The implications of Billy Bob Thornton's game of Twister being one of them ...

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Neil Ack I'd just put those implications out of my mind!

Phantom of Pulp said...

Stone has directed a number of excellent films. I also like U-TURN a lot.

Perhaps my favorite Stone pic is TALK RADIO, one of the rawest, most caustic pieces of his career.

Bogosian's performance is amazing, and the final scene, featuring the killer, is hellishly good.

What Stone does visually in a simple radio station setting is golden.

Bryce Wilson said...

Agree 100% on that one, Talk Radio is truly an underrated movie. And I'm hardly the worlds biggest Eric Bogosian fan.