An Analysis of Oliver Stone’s American President Trilogy

Oliver Stone is a filmmaker who has consistently explored recent American history and culture through an analytical lens that offers thought-provoking reflection on established viewpoints. With stellar movies like Section (1986), Wall Street (1987), and born killers (1994), Stone’s approach to examining sensitive and repulsive subject matter has always been a striking example of postmodern cinema. Perhaps his most controversial films that reflect reality are his visions of the modern presidency, which can be found in jfk (1991), Nixon (1995), and W (2008). jfk takes a broad and quick look at the JFK assassination, as Nixon and W are warts and all biopics. Each of these films has its fair share of detractors in addition to those who still praise them to this day. While each film is structurally different, all three are represented by superior performances, innovative cinematography and film editing, and controversial yet incredibly intriguing narratives that seek to expose major flaws in real events that are hidden in established narratives that deter a deeper analysis or opposing point of view. Stone’s approach is bold and uncompromising, and you can be assured that his portrayals of recent US presidency are not sycophants or wrapped up in patriotic brainwashing.

JFK (1991)

When it was released in 1991, jfk was an immediate firebrand for controversy. Although even its detractors praised its technical merits, the film’s themes challenged the status quo and brought compelling revelations around the assassination of the 35th President that caused unease to those who wholeheartedly believed the established narrative. For every truth, there is a kernel of exaggeration behind it, and when it comes to the murder of a beloved president, there have long been suggestions that there is more to the story than it seems. The assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 crippled the nation, and Lee Harvey Oswald quickly gained recognition as the villain who snuffed out the life of a young leader who had captivated the world. I don’t agree with all of Stone’s suggestions, namely the idea that JFK was a progressive firebrand; at least he was certainly not without flaw, but Stone’s arguments and revelations seen through the eyes of Orleans parish, Louisiana DA Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), are so well presented that even the detractor the more ardent must stop to reflect. The thing about conspiracy theories is that the theories will never do anything to move the needle forward: some are ridiculous (Britain’s Queen ordered MI6 to kill Diana, Princess of Wales) and still others deserve a deep dive, and the slippery slope of the many unorthodox circumstances surrounding JFK’s assassination is certainly one. The divide will always be split down the middle, and smear campaigns are enough to cover their tracks. The most controversial aspects of the film include Stone’s suggestion that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby knew each other, as well as several characters depicting real people who changed their stories and retracted various confessions so often that it becomes a stretch to suggest that this highlights an intergovernmental conspiracy to kill the president. Whatever to take away from Stone’s observations and suggestions, the film is a marvel of cinematic achievement; movies aren’t about recreating historical truths – they’re about moving and intriguing an audience. If you want total accuracy and objectivity, watch a documentary or read a book.

Nixson (1995)

four years later jfk release, Stone decided to make a film that plays like a most cohesive biopic of President Richard Nixon – one of America’s most controversial and in many ways tragic presidents. Again, it’s important not to immediately pick up a movie like Nixon as pure fact; that’s not the point, and Stone’s artistry is to capture the essence of man and his many trials and tribulations. For me, this film is the crowning achievement of Stone’s films about the American presidency, and almost all of it has to do with Anthony Hopkins’ commanding performance in the title role. Back then, much like today’s biopics, critics complained that Hopkins was neither like nor like Nixon. Some precision to the real person is necessary, but when it comes to cinema, it’s the mental care of the person that’s most important, and it’s the best performance ever. by an American president. It’s up for debate if Nixon was an alcoholic, if his childhood was really so tragic that it haunted him throughout adulthood, if he conspired to have Fidel Castro assassinated, and if he was in aware of a possible threat to President Kennedy. As jfkit’s Oliver Stone’s way of presenting food for thought, and despite the need to try to figure out if what we see and hear is 100% accurate, the facts that exist in the public record describing the downfall of Nixon are close to the cause of Stone’s downfall. unflattering presentation, but honest here.

W. (2008)

If you notice a pattern of criticism towards Stone’s alternative approach to history here, then you can expect that to be displayed in W, Stone’s third and final film about American presidents, this time depicting the beginnings and first term of George W. Bush in the early 2000s. The thing about Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, is that Much of what Stone portrays is well known in public records. Bush’s preparation for the invasion and subsequent war with Iraq is an example of a president making questionable gestures in broad daylight. The film isn’t flattering, but Stone presents the fumblings of Bush’s life as factual and straightforward, not necessarily grim or purely cartoonish. Josh Brolin plays Bush 43 in a mirror of reality, and if he portrays any part of Bush’s cabinet as sinister, it’s not hard to find fault with that as this administration adds validity to their goals and objectives in broad daylight. Not as great as the first two films, but W is an important film depicting an extremely consequential and chaotic period in recent history.

Kevin E. Boling