Monday, August 9, 2010

Canon Movie Review: U-Turn

The Canon Review's weekend of Jon Voight concludes with the 1997 Oliver Stone film U-Turn. Based off of a novel written by John Ridley title Stray Dogs, the movie has a big-time cast, starring Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton, Voight, Claire Danes, and Joaquin Phoenix. U-Turn tells the story of a drifter named Bobby Cooper (Penn), who is on his way to Las Vegas to pay a debt off, has to take a U-Turn after the radiator hose in his car bursts and finds himself in the town of Superior, Arizona. After that Bobby's day goes from bad to worse, as he has difficulties with the town's mehanic Darrell (Thornton) a beautiful woman named Grace (Lopez) and her real-estate developer husband Jake McKenna (Nolte), who oddly enough, each wants Penn to kill off their respective spouses. Penn also meets a blind man (Voight) who loves to drink Dr. Pepper and pops up from time to time to offer Bobby advice, and a fickle girl named Jenny (Danes), whose frequent flirting with Bobby leads to problems with her boyfriend Toby N Tucker, aka TNT (Phoenix). No matter how hard Bobby tries, he just can't seem to get out of Superior, and ends up getting deeper and deeper in a web of lies, jealousy, and greed. A few thoughts about the film, and there are SPOILERS ahead:

- Director Oliver Stone is a talented filmmaker, and his talent shows in this film. The cinematography is excellent in this film, and Stone uses different tricks such as flashbacks to add background to the characters and slow-motion shots to add a sense of importance to certain scenes. However, Stone does get a bit too reliant on these and other gimmicks, so to speak, and a lot of it doesn't really add anything to the film at all and just seems as if he's trying to show off.

- As Bobby Cooper, Sean Penn does a wonderful job of playing the role, and manages to get the audience to root for this seemingly lowlife character to succeed in his quest not only to get out of town, but to pay off his debts as well. You almost feel sorry for him seeing his money being destroyed by a shotgun blast from a store owner after a failed robbery attempt from two local thugs, and his constant battle with the mechanic over the bill is something people can relate to, as most of us have been in slightly similar situations before. Penn plays Cooper with such skill that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role better. Certainly not Tom Cruise and Bill Paxton, who also were considered for the role. No offense to either men, who are both fine actors in their own right, but I feel like something would have been missing had anyone else other than Penn had played the role.

- Actually, most of the acting in this film is quite top-notch. Billy Bob Thornton does an excellent job playing Darrell the redneck mechanic, making him one of the film's more memorable characters. Jon Voight is a little over-the-top as the blind man who carries a dead dog with him, but the movie in itself was over-the-top, so it fits the film perfectly here. Actually, Voight was almost unrecognizable at first, so kudos to the makeup department for making Voight look like a hapless old blind bum. Voight's Anaconda co-star Jennifer Lopez also turned in a solid performance as Grace McKenna, and did more than just hold her own in her many scenes with Penn. Nick Nolte, however, was just ok as Jake McKenna, as he really just seemed to be going through the motions and didn't give his character a whole lot of depth. Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix was hysterical in his portrayal of the high-tempered TNT, nearly stealing the show despite being in the movie no longer than five minutes.

- This movie is shot and directed very well, and is acted very well. However, I must say that I felt the plot was a little bit flat with a few holes in it. There were quite a few moments where you may wonder "What are the chances of that happening?" Also, the story has so many twists and turns that some might end up confused, and the movie has so many false endings that at the end, I just couldn't wait for the makers of the movie to just pick an ending and go with it instead of dragging the film on.

Overall, this seems to be Oliver Stone's attempt at making a scuzzy, Tarantino-esque film. While the acting is strong, and Stone's talent shines through, there are some weaknesses with the plot and a few scenes just wind up going nowhere. It's a good film, probably worth seeing and I wouldn't be surprised if others like this more than I did, but to me it just fell short of being a great film. I'll give U-Turn a 5.920 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this post, or ideas for future reviews, than share those thoughts and ideas either by leaving a comment on the blog or by sending me an e-mail at

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