The period was between 1986 – 1995, and Stone could do no wrong with his controversial films that pushed the envelope, challenging the audience to examine what was fiction or what was fact, or what were crazy, inane conspiracy theories conceived out of thin air by Stone like some kind of Libertarian Merlin. His aesthetic evolved, too, and Stone became associated with schizophrenic editing, employing multiple film stocks and colors to evoke the appropriate tone of uneasiness that Stone felt with subjects he was putting under the microscope. What's interesting about his two films released in 1986, Salvador and Platoon is how you can see a filmmaker, and dare I say an auteur, really coming into his own. Of course, he won the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar's for Platoon, and away we go into a career filled with interesting films; flawed perhaps, but always interesting.
Stone worked with photojournalist Rick Boyle on Salvador to bring to the screen the injustices of El Salvador and how the American government was funding the wrong side. Of course, the argument for the "other side" is that El Salvador will always be a country of violence, and at least the U.S. can control the brutality if they're funding it. This of course is what pisses Stone off, and you get a sense of that anger throughout Salvador, an uneven film that is really only saved thanks to the performance of James Woods.
Which brings me back to James Woods: Woods has always been one of my favorite actors. He immediately piques my interest in an film whenever I see him pop up – whether it be in small b-pictures like the grimy, exploitation film Cop, or the flim-flam comedy Diggstown, or the campy John Carpenter horror flick Vampires. He also has a tendency to steal scenes from great actors like Clint Eastwood in True Crime or Robert DeNiro in Casino. He's a fascinating actor who uses odd ticks and timing to give the audience characters that they surely have never seen before. Here he creates a character in Boyle that is as interesting a character as he's ever played (Boyle co-wrote the screenplay). Woods has some great moments where his frustration is palpable, but he does it without ever seeming like he's playing to the back of the room; it's an amazing balancing act. Because of Woods' magnetism the film is watchable without ever being boring, but not to the point where you don't notice how inconsistent the tone is. Is this an adventure film or is this a serious expose of political injustice? It's a question that Stone would be able to hone to a finer point of emphasis with his follow-up film released in the same year, the highly popular Platoon.
I have to be honest with you here: I was ready to hate on Platoon. I don't know why, really. Maybe it was because it had been over ten years since seeing it, and I was all ready to claim that it was one of those overrated films that took a bunch of Oscars away from a better movie (like the un-nominated Blue Velvet, for example), but I was surprised by how well the film holds up and by how much the I found to be a powerful experience upon a second viewing nearly ten years after I initially saw it. Here's a film that succeeds and holds up well because of its characters and Stone's reliance on those characters (instead of action) to lead us through the story and make Platoon a different kind of war film.