"U-Turn" Is Kinetic And Excessive––And One of the More Underappreciated Films of the 90s. | 2 or 3 Things I Know About Film >> Film Film reviews, essays, analysis and more Film | 2 or 3 Things I Know About Film >> Film Film reviews, essays, analysis and more
“U-Turn” Is Kinetic And Excessive––And One of the More Underappreciated Films of the 90s.

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A woman of Native descent overhears her husband telling her lover to go upstairs and kill her. She runs and hides behind the bedroom door holding a hatchet; shadows making her look like a caricature of primitive predator. The scene cuts when the lover enters the room, and we watch from the perspective of the husband downstairs listening to her screams as she’s attacked. I bring up this scene because it’s one of many - and when I say many, I mean many scenes in U-Turn where Oliver Stone’s direction is on a whole other level of expertise. Stone compares his characters to animals acting on their primitive drive - and that’s why having a central character as a Native makes the entire film wholly one within Stone’s framework as an auteur. It may not be a full-on political picture like his other work (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Nixon), but it’s about humans and their internal clockwork; their darknesses and their mistakes, and their shitty luck - and likening characters to animals via Native spirituality is nothing new on him; having explored it briefly in one of Natural Born Killers’ best sequences. When the husband runs upstairs, becoming indecisive with his intentions of murdering his wife, he finds her standing in the middle of the room covered in blood with the hatchet in her hand; the lover on the floor. What follows through is an act of incredible violence shown on-screen, with cuts back and forth to a crow sitting in the room as a voyeur. Just as earlier, when the wife was staring at her husband with complete numbness and death in her eyes, Stone cuts the film to a stuffed mountain lion above the fireplace; likening that emotional expression to a soulless creature looking to prey.

U-TurnCREDIT: SOURCE

Oliver Stone has never really been one for subtlety (and there are many times where that can be a detraction of his focal narratives), but the man knows how to play things off with layers via the means of production. In the commentary of U Turn, alone, Stone makes reference to how heavily influenced he is by Jean-Luc Godard. If that’s not a verification that the man is aware of everything he splices into his work, I really don’t know what else could be. Godard’s editing is where he’s often with his cheeky tongue, and that’s where U-Turn plays its game. Only, you know, when you’re Oliver Stone and as pissed off as he is with the material, he’s going to just chew the tongue right the fuck off. Therefore, while the production is kinetic and quite excessive, it’s still meaningful and supplies the already bizarre and chaotic sequences with even more humanity. In short, Stone’s hammer-to-the-head direction works best when working with a story that’s just as hammer-to-the-head and whacked out.

U-Turn is a dark movie about despicable people doing despicable things. But it’s also, somehow, incredibly funny. Sometimes it verges on camp, while at others the humor is so intentional, and so bleak, it feels depressing. And it’s a vicious, if not entertaining, cycle that the viewer can’t really pinpoint the beginning or end of. Tonally so consistent, it somehow defies genre simultaneously, and it’s only in favor of the film itself that today - nearly twenty years since the theatrical release - it feels just as fresh and ballsy as it did back in 1997. There’s a scene where Sean Penn’s character kicks a cat across a diner while everyone looks on emotionlessly, a waitress named Flo who flirts with customers by selling them milk, a cartoonish Russian mafia that wants our protagonist (can you call him that?) dead, people questioning why Patsy Cline no longer puts out any records, a mechanic covered in black grease playing a game of Twister on his own while watching porn, a blind Native American bum traveling with a dead dog (which is something else added to the film’s spiritual side), a robbery in a small grocery store that involves slipping on ground beef and shooting the protagonist’s life money, not once, but, twice as to really drive home the point that the man is screwed. Oh, and there’s a real estate agent whose entire library of books in his office are books about hunting and shooting and of whom ultimately becomes the catalyst for use of a gun in the film’s final act. There’s also a mural of Jesus, and while that seems incredibly ham-fisted, it’s played with creepy effect by Stone’s choice of reference.

 

 

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This is all saturated by Ennio Morricone’s score - very much a Morricone score with its neo-western tropes - which alternates between Native lullaby and strings to comedic sound effects. Stone even allows for one scene - where he juxtaposes a scene in a shower with the raining of a dark alley in Las Vegas during a character’s flashback - have a character’s cries of pain slowly work their way from the dialogue and actually present itself into the music soundtrack. Even the smallest details, Morricone invokes many moods that perfectly match the material at hand. It’s one of the great composer’s finest, and easily most underrated, of scores. It only finds itself complementing a soundtrack of classic country music ranging from the aforementioned Cline, Johnny Cash, Gloria Lynne, Ricky Nelson, and Peggy Lee - the latter duo used in the previously discussed “cold-stare like a mountain lion” scene and the film’s bleakest of bleak comedic moments during the ending credits, respectively. That’s probably what makes the film work to such an ugly degree: everyone and everything seems to fit into Stone’s crazy world.

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Completely deserving of a re-analyzation: Stone’s intent being that “even people are animals”, and expressing it in the most inventive of ways. It’s a movie about people having lost, or in the processing of losing, their moral compass - and likening this attribute to animals, makes for excellent psychological groundwork in a world as spiritually animated as this. It’s genre filmmaking done with both intelligence and fearless bravado - being silly without losing touch with reality. And while it’s not a provocation of politics, it still features human nature to a point where there’s still room for call. For example, why do the McKenna couple have such an expensive home on the outlines of a poverty-stricken “trailer trash” town? You pay close attention to Stone’s choice cutaways, and it’s there for you see, question, and get the idea of what someone like Stone would believe to be the case. U-Turn is the quintessential American film from the 90s that needs to be reconsidered. Pronto. It’s comedic and mindful attitude still remains relevant.