Oliver Stone is perhaps Hollywood’s most political writer-director. His career encompasses a filmography of political statements so close to his own heart you can almost feel his personal frustrations when you watch his films. A Vietnam War veteran, he gained the purple heart after being wounded in battle and proceeded to make two Academy Award-winning anti-war films. The son of a stockbroker, he made two exposes of the world of Wall Street banking. He’s regularly churned out films about American Presidents and politics, almost always controversially. His latest, in the vein of previous political biographies such as Nixon and W is Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and tipped for release next summer.
His second war film is perhaps his best. Born on the Fourth of July is based on the true story of a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, and follows the plight of troops returning home. Cold War ideals and youthful optimism degrade, step by step, as Vietnam generates hippy protests, politics slide towards the agitated New Left, and popular disillusionment emerges under the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Kovic, played by Tom Cruise, undergoes physical and mental decline until he becomes a hero of the anti-war movement, like a phoenix reborn. His transformation is paced perfectly. You feel for Kovic as the visceral horror of the war scenes are played out.
Stone is the master of depicting decay. A consistent voice of dissent, he forced the US government to disclose materials relating to the Kennedy assassination with his film JFK. He has even turned his pen to history, writing a somewhat conspiratorial Untold History of the United States. In the pantheon of critics of the American Dream, Oliver Stone appears alongside such predecessors as Nathanael West. He films the ugly, the controversial and the bold, and let’s hope he continues to do so.