Comeback Kids; Upturn for Stone?

Article excerpt

Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Conservatives recoiled when Paramount Pictures announced Oliver Stone would direct "World Trade Center," a thriller based on the terrorist attacks of September 11. What conspiracy, they wondered, would the lefty auteur spring on us now?

Film fans also winced, but not out of ideological reflex.

When was the last time Mr. Stone made a good, let alone a great, movie?

Early notices hint the director's drought may be over.

Even some conservatives are singing Mr. Stone's praises after seeing the new film, which opens Wednesday. The film follows two Port Authority officers who rush into the collapsing buildings to save as many lives as possible. "WTC" stars Nicolas Cage, Maria Bello, Michael Pena ("Crash") and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others.

"World Trade Center" doesn't blame America, President George W. Bush or any talk radio titan for the attacks.

Making a fact-based epic from this country's greatest catastrophe seems an odd path toward career resurrection, but "World Trade Center" might just make Mr. Stone relevant again.

Mr. Stone emerged as a filmmaking force buoyed by both his scriptwriting (1978's "Midnight Express") and his directing (1986's Oscar-winning "Platoon").

He drew upon his own Vietnam experiences for his early directorial triumphs, then began collecting detractors with a series of politically charged films that claimed wide creative license for themselves in treating historical subjects.

His 1991 film "JFK," a pastiche of conspiracy theories which preyed on our collective unease about President Kennedy's assassination, rankled filmgoers and historians alike.

By that time, the right already viewed Mr. Stone with suspicion. His script for 1986's "Salvador" questioned U.S. foreign policy, and 1987's "Wall Street" targeted the Reagan-era economic boom, mocking its supposed shallowness with the catchphrase "Greed is good."

"Natural Born Killers" alienated even more of the movie-going public, but its arresting images made it hard to look away. Mr. Stone's 1994 vision of two killers who become a media sensation seemed, to some, to glorify death and destruction. The film engulfed Mr. Stone in a real lawsuit involving a 1995 murder case in which the killers said the film inspired their actions. The suit was later dismissed on First Amendment grounds.

Mr. Stone's films aren't all blockbusters - "Platoon's" $138 million haul still represents his career zenith - but they at least could count on the occasional Oscar buzz. His 1995 biography "Nixon" alone snared four nominations. He hasn't been nominated since, unless you count being selected as a finalist for Worst Director in the 1997 Razzie Awards (for "U-Turn").

Mr. Stone's football expose "Any Given Sunday" (1999) featured more sizzle than story, but at least made a small profit with its box office take of $75 million.

The director followed "Sunday" with a curious documentary palimpsest involving Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Mr. Stone's "Comandante" (2003) featured a rare, one-on-one interview with the communist leader, but word quickly leaked of the cozy rapport between interviewer and subject. When Castro's regime inconveniently executed three Cuban hijackers and jailed 75 dissidents, Mr. Stone returned to Cuba to conduct somewhat tougher interviews. The result, "Looking for Fidel," aired on HBO in 2004.

The director's biggest bomb came with "Alexander," 2004's misbegotten take on the great Macedonian leader. …