Your average Oliver Stone fan would say (at least in my experience) that U Turn is his worst film. In a list of socially conscious films, usually critical of "the system" in one way or another, U Turn certainly stands out as uncharacteristic, or so it might seem. I think Oliver Stone may well be the best director there is and in my opinion U Turn is his best film.
In Hollywood you get movies that are actually vehicles as they say for action, gratuitous sex, violence, cheap scares, laughs, etc. That is to say, these movies exist merely to provide the viewer with plenty of (fill in the blank), and the plot is merely a line taking the viewer from one (fill in the blank) sequence to another. I see U Turn as a vehicle for art, and the plot is really just intended to bring the viewer from one brilliantly visually composed episode of colorful character interaction to another. Not to be confused with art house fare, with all its pretentiously multilayered, obscure self referential metaphors and what have you. Save that stuff for the beatniks. The art of U Turn is in its extra dimensional visual narrative, which makes use of brief cuts of imagery and often sound to interrupt the scene, so as to give mental impressions visual representation. You don't watch U Turn, you experience it.
So when someone says U turn is an inferior imitation of Red Rock West for instance, and I've seen this comparison made time and time again, I have to laugh. As if Stone would lower himself to such an undertaking. While the plot may resemble that of Red Rock West, the plot alone is almost inconsequential when talking about the value of U Turn as a film.
The value of U Turn is in the way it visualizes the mental, a technique Stone has referred to as cubism. As with Picasso's cubism, which was his way of conveying the third dimension of an image while limited to a flat medium, Stone's "cubism" is intended to visualize what you know is there but can't see: the mental. This cubism has been present in most of Oliver Stone's recent projects: traces of it in The Doors and JFK, over the top in Natural Born Killers, subtly used but obviously present in Nixon, and finally executed to perfection in U Turn.
So in this respect, U Turn is perfectly characteristic of his body of work, maybe not as a filmmaker but certainly as an artist. As Stone develops a mastery of his cubism in future films (we see it again in Any Given Sunday), we will look back and realize that U Turn is the standard against which these films are to be measured.
Having said my piece about cubism, let me say a few words about the characters in U Turn. U Turn is a surrealistic odyssey into Bobby Cooper's limbo, and its other characters are the obstacles that keep him trapped there. Every character given any screen time simply shines. The actors in U Turn understand (better than many viewers do unfortunately) that their role in the film is a joke. Jake, Darrell, the Sheriff, Jenny and Toby, the blind man, even Bobby - these are spoofs (for lack of a better word) on their character types. This is not over acting, these are comic performances carried out with talent rarely seen. The strength of U Turn's characters is comparable only to that of a movie like Apocalypse Now. Again here we have a movie that is a surrealistic odyssey not to watch but to experience. Kilgore, Chef, the Photo Journalist, these too were comic performances. In movies like these, each character is really an episode in the narrative of the protagonist's journey.
Apocalypse Now was ahead of its time and U Turn, I think, will prove to be as well.
10 out of 10. A UNIQUE film experience.
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