His take on US history is polarising to say the least. Whilst most people consider JFK to be more of a stylistic triumph than a debate-clinching argument, there is a compelling power to his best films that if nothing else provide plenty of food for thought and discussion, even if you disagree with his conclusions or political stand-point.
Historical dramas may be what he is best known for, but he has covered a lot of ground and the list below seeks to cover the bases. Any favourites that have been omitted? Add your arguments in the comments section.
So began Oliver Stone’s three-film dissection of US involvement in Vietnam. After this grunt’s-eye-view of the war, with a fresh faced Charlie Sheen caught between Elias’ and Barnes’ different and competing approaches to leadership and the rules of engagement, Stone would look at the experiences of a returning, injured soldier in Born on the Fourth of July and finally the experiences of a Vietnamese woman in the generally less well regarded Heaven & Earth. There is an awful lot to admire about Born on the Fourth of July, but it is Platoon that remains the most powerful, effective and affecting of Stone’s Vietnam trilogy.
“The first casualty of war is innocence” read the tag line and a simple comparison of Sheen’s dust-blown arrival with his sobbing departure tells you everything you need to know about what Vietnam did to his character and thousands of recruits just like him. Elias and Barnes seemingly compete for Sheen’s soul, while the brutality and horror of all that unfolds around him drags him down too. There is a sense in which physical survival says nothing of the injuries and devastation suffered – something of Sheen’s humanity died out there and it looks like it’s gone for good.
Dismissing any ridiculous gung-ho jingoism that might have characterised other depictions of Vietnam, Stone gets down on the ground and shows us violence, cynicism, depravity and lost souls – men in a place they do not know, fighting battles they cannot hope to understand, much less win – all the while showing us the cost without recourse to manipulation or melodrama. It is undoubtedly a painful watch and doesn’t bear repeat viewing as readily as others in this list, but it is an absolutely essential film within cinema’s depiction of war in general and Vietnam in particular and Stone has arguably yet to top it.