U Turn (1997)

(In French, On TV, September 2016) There’s something unusual in seeing Oliver Stone delivering a small-town crime thriller like U-Turn: Stone usually takes on wider-scale topics, even in movies like Natural Born Killers where the crime spree is an excuse to talk about violence as a social phenomenon. Here, we’re down to a man (Sean Penn, not bad) unwillingly stuck in a small desert town and getting embroiled in the simmering madness of its inhabitants. Of course, this being a nineties Stone film, it’s quite unlike anyone else’s take on the same topic. Even as a small-scale dark crime comedy, it’s handled with multiple film stocks, quick cuts, impressionistic directing and a dream-like effect. It’s as if Stone reused the Natural Born Killers bag of tricks in service of a B-grade thriller just to see what would happen. As a result, U Turn may not be a classic, but sure holds our attention. It helps that there’s some terrific casting here. Billy Bob Thornton is menacing as a mechanic with uncommon power over our protagonist; Nick Nolte is imposing as a man willing to have his wife killed; Clare Danes and Joaquin Phoenix show up as a dangerous couple, while John Voigt pops up as a blind Indian beggar. But the film partially belongs to Jennifer Lopez, cranking up the heat as a femme fatale. (Being arguably miscast as a Native American doesn’t matter much given the craziness quotient of the film.) As a sunny noir thriller, U-Turn is wild, expressionistic, exploitative and overwhelming, but it’s never dull.

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