Long before Sarah Palin turned it into a punch line, the word “maverick” was associated with Oliver Stone. Mr. Stone was always the Last of the Mohicans — a ’70s auteur trapped in the wrong decade. His name on a film meant you were getting something more than just a trip to the cinema. This was pop art designed to get a rise out of the audience in any way possible. And because of that, for the better part of a decade Mr. Stone was one of the most polarizing names in film.
We can remember the vitriol following the announcement that he was going to direct World Trade Center. How dare this crazy left-wing maniac tackle the biggest tragedy on American soil in modern history? He’s going to sully the memory of those lost with a twisted tale of conspiracy and finger pointing! And then once the film was released, it was revealed to be perfectly normal to the point of being, well, boring. There was no energy, no zip. Not that we wanted some off-the-deep-end theorizing, but we wanted something. We figured maybe the disconnect was because of the subject matter — perhaps even a button pusher like Mr. Stone didn’t want to push those buttons. After seeing W., though, we know it’s something else. Mr. Stone has just flat lost a step. He’s gotten old.
In a weak year for film, W. certainly stands as one of the better efforts, filled with the great performances and slick craft you’d expect from Mr. Stone. However, like World Trade Center, there’s a waft of “why” coming off the screen. Why did Oliver Stone have to direct W. if he wasn’t going to do anything with it? We’ve seen harder attacks on the Bush administration from Fox News and the McCain campaign. If Mr. Stone is going to tackle the same incendiary subjects that he did in his younger days (and he should!), then he should tackle them.
That’s the biggest problem we had with the film. Any number of other people could have directed W. — from Ron Howard to Brett Ratner. There is no “Oliver Stone” ownership stamp on W. and that’s what really saddens us. Mr. Stone used to be a true and legitimate muckraker — a maverick. Now he’s just another decent director.