Dec. 30, 1999

"Any Given Sunday" and "The Green Mile"


       It always interests me when a director hits their stride, how long they can keep it going.  Very few directors have been able to stay on top of their game for their entire careers—Hitchcock, Wyler, Hawks, Wilder—not many.  Then there are the guys with fairly lengthy runs like Martin Scorsese, who lasted from 1973 with "Mean Streets" to 1990 with "GoodFellas" or Francis Coppola, who lasted from 1970 with "Patton" to 1979 with "Apocalypse Now."  Nothing earlier was of any value and nothing since.  And once a director has lost it, it never comes back again.  Oliver Stone made it from 1986 with both "Salvador" and "Platoon" to 1991 with "JFK."  In the nearly nine years since "JFK" he has not made a single decent movie, nor, I believe, will he ever again. 
       "Any Given Sunday," Mr. Stone’s newest film, does not function as a drama, a character study, an interesting example of filmmaking, or even as an interesting sports film.  In fact, it does not function at all.
       It’s vaguely interesting to watch Oliver Stone’s decline as he’s gone from being a good dramatist to being nothing more than a camera jerk-off.  Both "Salvador" and "Platoon" are shot in a clear, straight-forward, no-nonsense fashion and are both quite good films ("Platoon" being quite a bit better).  Next came "Talk Radio," which isn’t a very good film, but suddenly had excessive camera movement.  Well, it was all stuck in one room and he was trying—and failing—to make that interesting.  Let’s face facts, shall we—if the drama’s no good you can move the camera until the cows come home and it won’t get any better.  Whereas, if the drama is good, you don’t need to move the camera at all.  Finding the happy medium is where the possibility of art arises.  Next came "Born on the Fourth of July," a film I don’t particularly enjoy, but sort of respect.  I think he managed to wrench a pretty good performance out of Tom Cruise and the Vietnam sequence is powerful in a highly disconcerting way.  However, the rest of the film I found difficult to sit through and my interest continually waned as the film went on interminably for 144 minutes until the end when I no longer cared at all.  This was Mr. Stone’s first excessively long film, and the first where I clearly felt that my interest was no longer of any interest to him.  Then came "JFK," which I quite like.  Somehow its excessive length (188 minutes in its theatrical version, 205 minutes in its director’s cut) and its extreme use of jerky camera movement and inter-cutting between color and black and white all seems to miraculously blend harmoniously. 
       But that was the end of the road for Mr. Stone.  Now he can’t make a two-minute sequence function, and he can no longer film a piece of action and make it understandable—somehow he seems to have forgotten everything he once knew.  The football sequences in "Sunday" are gruelingly awful—you can’t tell what’s going on, who’s doing what, who has the ball or what anything means.  There is a terrible sense of arbitrariness in Stone’s work now that I find completely uninteresting.  He seems to go out with multiple cameras and blast the shit out of every scene with no rhyme or reason, then have his multiple editors cut the scenes like they were drunk, blindfolded and spun around in circles.  The film is scored and mixed the same way—rap songs mashed together with pop tunes mixed with Black Sabbath tunes, none of which fit the scenes.
       And meanwhile, Al Pacino yells every single one of his lines and is now beginning to sound like Jimmy Durante—"A big ‘W,’ I’m tellin’ ya!  A big ‘W’!"
       So why does "Platoon" seem like it was made by a writer/director that totally knows what he’s doing and saying and "Any Given Sunday" and "U-Turn" and "Natural Born Killers" all seem like they were made by a retard?  It’s a question that fascinates me.  The old adage goes, "Great directors don’t die, they become cinematographers."  I don’t think that quite explains it anymore.  Now, great directors don’t die, they become music video directors with too much time and money on their hands.







       On the other hand we have "The Green Mile," a Stephen King prison story from Frank Darabont, who brought us "The Shawshank Redemption," another Stephen King prison story.  Since this is Darabont’s second film, I guess he’ll have to wait until Stephen King writes another prison story before he makes his next film.  If we’re lucky, perhaps King won’t bother.
       I actually didn’t mind the first hour of this film, when it was simply a period prison story that was somewhat reminiscent of "The Shawshank Redemption" (which is a much better film).  However, when the supernatural element finally kicks in and the story becomes a thinly veiled Jesus parable, I suddenly became deeply and severely bored.  The film then goes on for two more hours, causing my head to slide down to where my butt used to be and my spine to twist up like a gnarled old branch.  Having beaten this tired old Jesus parable into the dirt, it then took another 30 minutes for the story to end a dozen times.  I couldn’t get out of the theater quick enough from either one of these films. 
       Is that really how they want me to feel when I go to a movie these days?