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Has Oliver Stone gone soft?

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Part of the fun in waiting for Oliver Stone's films now is anticipating what stunt he'll pull next. World Trade Center depicted the events of 9/11 as we were still recovering from them. W. was groundbreaking in its portrayal of a sitting president. Now, Stone is releasing a sequel to his 1987 capitalism saga, Wall Street in a time of economic unrest. The film will be in theatres on September 24.

By tapping into the American zeitgeist with laser precision, Stone is more of a provocateur now than ever. However, World Trade Center and W. don't match the dark edge of JFK, Natural Born Killers or Nixon. Their edge is evident only in their basic premise. World Trade Center was not a searing account of 9/11, but a rather tepid disaster film reminiscent of a made-for-TV movie. And W. was not a critical look at our 43rd President, but a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of the highly satirized figure.

Stone's evolution as a filmmaker is most evident in the closing shot of W. Bush (Josh Brolin) gazes up at the starry night sky, as if contemplating his place in the universe. With this shot, Stone shows for the first time that he doesn't have all the answers, that he can't cut through the darkness of the political world. The turmoil of our times is made all the more frightening by his inability to reach a solid conclusion about it. Like Bush, all he can do is look up and wonder. His films are becoming less hard-hitting and more open and ethereal.

Although I admired W. for underplaying Bush's political follies, I miss Stone's aggressive filmmaking style. His films in the 90s were political movies for the MTV generation, films with the bite and immediacy of editorial cartoons. Nixon and Natural Born Killers were living, breathing Ralph Steadman drawings, fun-house mirrors of reality. Stone challenged audiences by forcing them to stare into the abyss, at the dark heart of America. In Nixon, our government is depicted as a mystical beast that consumes all within its path. "I want to tame it enough to make it do some good," Nixon says. Our economy is also a wild animal and I'm hoping Stone treats it as such in the upcoming, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Based on early reviews of the film pouring in this week, it seems Stone is doing exactly that. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman said the film is "a darkly exciting steel-and-glass vision of piranhas in the water, of ruthlessly wealthy, nattily dressed men doing whatever it takes to make themselves wealthier". That certainly sounds like the kind of otherworldly, fever dream of a film Stone made in the 90s, at the peak of his powers.

What are your thoughts on Oliver Stone's new style and Wall Street 2?

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