A New Stone Age

In 'World Trade Center,' the outspoken director, known for mixing fact with melodrama, may have mellowed


BOSTON -- Apart from his undeniable boldness and virtuosity as a filmmaker, Oliver Stone has a genius for promotion.

He's interpreted his fellow baby boomers' peak experiences as paradigms of America's lost innocence -- and sold them with passion to a large and engaged (or enraged) audience. Like Spike Lee, he's been his own best publicist, using political controversy to grab the media spotlight for causes that he's made his own.

He's often mixed documentary detail with speculation or melodrama -- most daringly in 1991's JFK, which implicated Lyndon B. Johnson in the cover-up of a conspiracy to kill the president. But even audiences who deny Stone's premises can embrace or have fun wrestling with his juicy pastiches. He fills his pictures with persuasive and compelling details. After films like Born on the 4th of July, it was common to hear even seasoned journalists exclaim through their applause or tears, "I loved this movie because, to me, it was history!"

Over the past two decades, there've been rumors of "a new Stone," like "a new Nixon," emerging in this new film or that. Inevitably, some show of excess or indulgence would sabotage that image.

But with World Trade Center there really does seem to be a new Stone -- humble, restrained and intent on sticking to the verifiable facts. The director, who turns 60 in September, has assumed the philosophic stance of an elder statesman. At a press stop in Boston, drawing journalists from all over the Mid-Atlantic and New England, there were no signs of the director-shaman who downed peyote and channeled Jim Morrison as he directed The Doors (1991) or the director-general who tried to conquer the ancient world with Alexander (2004). I couldn't help asking whether molding this real story of tragedy and triumph in the shadows of the fallen towers had mellowed him or brought him richer directorial moods and textures. With a twinkle he chalked it up to age and experience: "Like wine," of course, he says -- then adds, with a soft, self-deprecating chuckle, "or cheese."

In a suite at Boston's new Ritz-Carlton, right across the Public Gardens from the old Ritz, Stone spoke quietly and thoughtfully about the characters and themes of his new movie, World Trade Center, which opens nationally Wednesday. It's the harrowing, ultimately inspiring, fact-based tale of two Port Authority Police Department cops, Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), an expert on evacuation procedures who'd been through the 1993 WTC bombing, and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), a mere nine-

month veteran of the force, caught together in the rubble on Sept. 11. When Stone made his first major movie, Salvador (1986), he liked to remind interviewers that the title was Spanish for redemption. World Trade Center turns out to be a tale of redemption, too. It's about people rising from catastrophe to help each other because it is the right thing to do.

Raves in the newsweeklies and trade publications have marveled that the film avoids politics and centers on the human drama. Stone thinks people shouldn't be surprised.

"My films are not that political," he contends. "Look at them. Even JFK is a question mark." It questioned that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President John F. Kennedy, and postulated a conspiracy to assassinate him because he upset the status quo and was about to pull out of Vietnam. But, Stone says, "it could have been embraced by the right wing because it was responding to Barry Goldwater's demand for an open government responsible to the people. Even Nixon (1995) was not a hatchet job, as some feared; it was a humanistic portrayal. What I say between movies I say because I feel, as Sean Penn puts it. I don't want to be muzzled just because I'm a celebrity. I served my country, I pay taxes. ... To say that because you're a celebrity, you don't know anything is to voice an ignorant, demeaning, condescending attitude."

None of his between-film comments proved more incendiary than the ones reported from an Oct. 1, 2001, seminar called Making Movies That Matter: The Role of Filmmaking in the National Debate. Stone linked the attack on

the World Trade Center to the riot against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle: He saw the events of Sept. 11 as part of a pattern of rebellion against the new global economic order. And as a filmmaker talking about filmmaking, he sutured that theme to his own frustration at conglomerates taking over studios and imposing corporate values. But a transcript reveals that he also said of the Sept. 11 atrocities, "I was in Vietnam. This is very personal to me and frankly I feel as if my daughter had been raped. ... It's a violation on a very deep level and I feel very sad." He empathized with and paid tribute to "all those families in Jersey, and the father is not coming home or the mother is not coming home. It's just terrifying. They'll never be in their families' lives again. This is very emotional stuff and it does take time."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.