“I’m not a great man. I’m a fuckin’ man like you, struggling through the goddamn day”
Perhaps one of most controversial and politically-charged directors of his generation, Oliver Stone has made some of the most seminal and enduring films of any time. His political views are strongly portrayed across his films; from Born on the Fourth of July to Wall Street. Another theme ubiquitous in Stone’s films is drugs. Scarface is loosely based on his own addiction to cocaine, which he successfully kicked while writing the screenplay for the film. So it’s no surprise his latest films Savages takes on a highly relevant issue for 21st century America, this time depicting a bitter battle between three successful weed dealers and a vicious Mexican drug cartel.
Stone enrolled at Yale University but dropped out to teach English in Saigon, Vietnam. In April 1967, Stone enlisted in the United States Army, requesting combat duty in Vietnam. Ten days after being honourably discharged, he found himself in jail in San Diego, after getting caught bringing two ounces of pot across the border from Mexico. Facing 5-20 years on Federal smuggling charges, Stone made a call to his father, who summoned a lawyer to spring him from jail after a couple of weeks. It was at this time that Stone went from a flag-waving conservative to an anti-establishment rebel after seeing first-hand the waste and corruption inherent in both the Vietnam and U.S. legal system. This experience is highly evident in nearly all of his films, which primarily focus on drugs, anti-right wing governments and the Vietnam War.
Stone did go back to University after the war and graduated from New York University in 1971, where among his teachers was director Martin Scorsese. His breakthrough as a director came in 1974 with Seizure. However, Stone’s directing career didn’t really kick start until his critically acclaimed, autobiographical, American War film, Platoon. In between this time Stone did write the cult classic that is Scarface, Brian De Palma’s hyper-violent look at a Cuban exile (Al Pacino) reaching for the American Dream by rising to the top of Miami’s drug game.
Next on Stone’s list, the rich fat cats in Wall Street, a movie that exposed the corrupt system of the American economy and how greed was going to destroy us. He returned to the film in 2010 with the sequel Wall Street 2. In 1989, Stone follows up on his theme of the Vietnam War with Born on the Fourth of July. Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, a true blue American who gets paralyzed in the Vietnam War, and is hated by almost everyone when he comes back home.
JFK was released in 1991 and is widely received as one of his best and most controversial films to date. JFK examines the events leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy and the alleged subsequent cover-up. He followed this up with two more films about American Presidents; Nixon which was released in 1995 and W (about George Bush), released in 2008.
Once again Al Pacino steals the show in Stone’s film about American football, titled Any Given Sunday (1999), famous for its motivational half time talk “inch by inch”. In his latest film Stone returns once again to his favourite subjects drugs and politics. Savages looks into a twisted love triangle, the strongest Marijuana known to man, the Mexican drug cartel and a kidnapping.
Over the years he has been in the spotlight for his divorce, drug use, outlandish statements, criminal charges and at times provocative films. He has directed 22 films, acted in 10, written 6, made 3 documentaries and written 4 books; the man has certainly been busy during his tenure. Whilst not all will be fans of Stone’s work he has cemented himself in the hall of fame as one of the great director/screen writers of all time.
Savages is released on 11th February on Blu-ray and DVD.