The Masters of Controversy

Through each of their professions, they have individually shaped the 20th and 21st century. Their professions, of course, delve deep into the chaotic realm of controversy: whether it is politics or cinema.

President George W Bush, whether you consider him to be a pariah, savior or a plain old fool, has attracted all sorts of attention and created perhaps the most controversy in the 21st century. Whether it is the hunt for the elusive weapons of mass destruction, the inability to converse, or good ol' fashioned greed, President Bush has had his fair share of controversy. There have been many writers, movie-makers and entertainers who have had caught on to his coattails and tailgated along for a boost in their career.

But Oliver Stone's career needed no such boost.

Stone's movies have always attracted attention from the media, whether good or bad and have made people think twice about the things they thought they knew so well. It was Stone's interest in Bush's controversial life that has brought about Stone's latest project W to life.

Stone was mentored by Martin Scorsese in NYU Film School, is best friends with Fidel Castro, has directed eight actors to individual Oscar winning performances and served in the US Army near the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War. It was here that he was wounded twice in action. His personal awards include the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor for "extraordinary acts of courage under fire", and the Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Stone would go on to make three movies about Vietnam, but more on that later.

His initial foray into screenwriting spread evenly across most genres, starting from his student film entitled Last Year in Viet Nam (1971), followed by the gritty horror film Seizure (1974), Midnight Express (1978), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Scarface (1983). Stone won his first Oscar for Midnight Express (1978) and this was just the beginning of his career.

It was clear that the more controversial the matter, the more Stone's interest in it. He has made three films about Vietnam – Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993). For Stone, these films are a very personal trilogy even though they are inspired by other people's stories. Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone's experience of war and combat. Born on the Fourth of July is based on the story of war veteran Ron Kovic. Heaven & Earth is derived from the memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, the true story of a Vietnamese girl whose life is drastically affected by the war.

During this same period, Stone directed Wall Street (1987), which earned Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor; Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio (1988), and The Doors (1991), starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. However, it was the film after this that truly cemented Stone’s career as a master of controversy. JFK (1991) was a star spangled cast of who’s who of Hollywood, with Kevin Costner leading the cast. Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, and John Candy all starred in this no holds barred look at one of the most shocking moments in America’s history, the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. In true Stone fashion, this movie is more than just the assassination of a political figure; it is about the assassination of a political ideal, or even, as some say, the assassination of democracy itself.

Stone then made Natural Born Killers (1994) starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Robert Downey Jr. and Rodney Dangerfield. The movie, an adaptation of one of Quentin Tarantino’s earlier screenwriting works, was the story of the love and hate relationship of the media and violence. Stone’s movie was a kaleidoscope of violence and satire. Blurring the line between funny and offensive, the movie was filled with gruesome scenes of violence, juxtaposed with scenes of comedic nuances—more specifically black comedy. Nixon (1995), with Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen, earned nominations for the actors and Stone for screenwriting, but failed to recover its budget.

During this time, Stone had slowed down in his movie making. Even the subject matter had saturated from spicy to quite bland. U-Turn (1997) had a very interesting storyline but was perhaps more Hitchcock intrigue and less Stone’s controversy. Any Given Sunday (1999) saw Stone veer off into the world of American Football and it wouldn’t be until 5 years that we’d see the director come back and do a film that he’d wanted to do for a life time. Alexander (2004) is perhaps Stone’s most epic film to date. The story of the great king who had conquered most of the known world, perhaps echoed the story of the director who had come so far in life and was desperate to rediscover himself. Again, the film failed to find an audience and barely recovered its budget through international DVD sales.

It wasn’t until World Trade Center (2006) that Stone finally found rediscovered himself and found his voice. Starring Nicolas Cage, the movie finally cemented the director with audiences and critics alike. And now, with the upcoming W, Stone sticks with what he knows best and delves knee deep in controversial subject matter once again. In the much anticipated movie Stone revisits the tumultuous youth of a man who came from a wealthy, oil family and whose father, George H. Bush, was also president—and his rise to power. "I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, pre-emptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors," he told a Hollywood magazine.

As usual, Stone found the process of making a political biopic motion picture quite difficult. “Nobody wanted to finance this film,” Stone told AFP, “Every studio said no. You’d be surprised to know the number of people in the business who don’t want to have their name associated with politics. This thing almost never got made.” But it did get made and cheaply at that too, thanks to tax cut incentives for only $30 million.

Speaking on being neutral on the subject matter, Stone told AFP, “Fifty million people voted for him on two occasions, He was in the same league for a long time as Ronald Reagan, until he became so offensive.” He told USA Today he had "tried to stay human to this man. People get me confused with my outspoken citizen side. But I'm a dramatist first and foremost. I am not interested in that radical 15 percent that hate Bush or the 15 or 20 percent who love Bush,” he said. “That's not our audience. Those people probably won't come. I'm interested in that 60 percent in the American middle who at least have a little more open mind.'

But however, Bush wasn't the only real life personality portrayed in the upcoming movie. The cast reads like a who's who of politics and hollywood: Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Jesse Bradford as Thatcher, a college buddy of Bush, James Cromwell as George H. W. Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney (originally, Stone was interested in Robert Duvall for the role, but he turned it down), Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush, Ioan Gruffudd, Jason Ritter as Jeb Bush, Noah Wyle as Donald Evans, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Toby Jones as Karl Rove. Josh Brolin steps into the shoes of the American President and he spoke about the role to EW Magazine, especially about the mannerisms such as the walk, "It changes over the years, how he walks in his 30s, how he walks in foreign lands, before 9/11 and afterward. People hold their emotions in their bodies. They can't fake it. Especially him."

When news broke that W was in production, Stone told the movie industry newspaper Variety that the movie would ask a very simple question: 'How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?' Bush, a former Texas governor, has never hidden the fact that he once battled alcoholism, but says he quit after a particularly heavy night on his 40th birthday in 1986 and has not touched a drop since.

Stone is a three-time Oscar winner. His directed films have been nominated for 31 Academy Awards, including eight for acting, six for screen writing, and three for directing. Not only is he well suited for making a movie about one of the most controversial figures of the 21st century, he is also the most capable since throughout his career, controversy has played a vital part in Oliver Stone’s success.

President Bush's actions have secured him a place in history books for years to come, but it will be Stone's portrayal of his character that will truly immortalize the President.

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