Twilight Time Movies: ‘U Turn’ (1997)

­­ Nick Clement reviews Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-Ray titles. This week: Oliver Stone’s grimy, berserk ‘U Turn’.

Scuzzy. Scummy. Disreputable. Nihilistic. Oliver Stone’s unrelentingly nasty neo-noir U Turn was finally made available on Blu-ray a while back in a spiffy new transfer from boutique catalog title aficionados Twilight Time DVD Label, and they’ve made me really happy with this disc because they’ve kept the amazing fine-grain quality of Robert Richardson’s edgy, pulsing, gritty cinematography, rather than digitally smothering this oh-so-late-90’s piece of filmmaking.

This was the last time that Stone and Richardson collaborated on a feature film, and you can definitely see some of the same Natural Born Killers-inspired gonzo filmmaking energy that made that film so memorable, and their pairing so aesthetically combustible. U Turn is an extremely unique genre entry, and what’s most interesting about U Turn on first glance is just how small it feels when compared to Stone’s other, decidedly more epic achievements. But much like Ridley Scott, when Stone gets more intimate, the results can be just as magical as the more sprawling endeavors.

He’s a filmmaker who is often associated with grand, sweeping subjects (JFK, Nixon, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven & Earth, Natural Born Killers — none of these brilliant works could ever be considered “small”) and what’s so unique about the down and dirty U Turn is that Stone just wanted to make a straight up genre piece, never really stepping outside of the trappings that this sort of film allows and affords, but instead pushing every staple ingredient to maximum levels, resulting in an in-your-face experience that will likely turn off just as many as it excites.

For me, this is one of his most truly berserk works, a black-hearted fable of greed, lust, murder, money, and deception that fits snugly in the 80’s/90’s noir landscape with such classics as Blood Simple, Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, After Dark My Sweet, The Hot Spot, and Palmetto. Boasting a wild and cheerfully vulgar screenplay from future Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, Three Kings), who in turn based the film off his own novel, U Turn tells the sordid tale of Bobby Cooper, a slippery, out of control Sean Penn, a petty criminal sort-of-on-the-run from his violent gangster employers, whose car breaks down in a sketchy Arizona desert town called Superior, that’s populated with nothing but weird, off-putting, potentially deadly people.

You’ve got the world’s oddest car mechanic Dale (a disgusting and grimy Billy Bob Thornton in one of his zaniest performances); a femme fatale to end all femme fatales named Grace played with sultry sexuality by Jennifer Lopez in one of her three great movie roles; a snarling, grizzled Nick Nolte as Jake, Grace’s abusive husband, who offers Bobby the chance to kill Grace for a large sum of money; a corrupt sheriff played with menacing glee by the amazing character actor Powers Boothe; an unhinged Joaquin Phoenix as a local wild-card hustler; Jon Voight as a blind, half Native American; and Julie Hagerty as the world’s strangest small-town diner waitress. How all of these people all add up and intersect is something you should discover for yourself if you haven’t already, but I’ll allow that U Turn is your classic murder-sex-revenge narrative, one that’s particularly vile and hilariously bleak. Penn faces numerous obstacles in this film, and his various showdowns with Nolte and Boothe are particularly fun, and the way Lopez toys with him (she’s rarely been this overtly sexual on-screen) is classic seductive serpent stuff, an area that Stone clearly had a blast with.

U Turn is pure anarchy but it still stays coherent which is a further testament to Stone’s inherent sense of storytelling. It’s visually jagged, it’s over the top, it’s satirical at times, and it always gives off an outlaw vibe that makes the viewer feel dangerous and alive. Because everyone in the twisted scenario is a reprehensible jerk or worse, it’s interesting to see how people react to this film, as without a truly sympathetic lead character, you have to pick your poison in terms of who to root for. Penn’s character creates an interesting dichotomy because while fucked up and venal, he’s still the anti-hero who we fundamentally want to see succeed, despite his numerous transgressions. He’s not the worst apple in the bunch and that has to be enough  in this landscape. And when the disturbingly funny climax approaches, you just know there’s no way that things could have ended any differently.

U Turn is a twisted, obscene, fatalistic piece of work with energy and style to spare. I’d love to see Stone cut loose again with something of this sort in the future. The team at Twilight Time put together a very solid disc release.

Special features include an Isolated Score Track, audio commentary with Oliver Stone, audio Commentary with Producer/Production Executive Mike Medavoy and Film Historian Nick Redman, an introduction to the film by Stone, and the film’s original theatrical trailer. It’s a Region Free (A/B/C) release, presented in 1080p High Definition / 1.85:1 / Color, with English 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio, and limited to 3,000 units.  https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/u-turn-blu-ray/

Twilight Time Movies release classic catalogue Blu-ray and DVD titles available for a limited time, exclusively in limited runs of 3000 copies. For more information, visit https://www.twilighttimemovies.com


❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.

❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.

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