When Natural Born Killers was released in 1994, I was 16 years old, and had just finished my Junior year of High School. I was aware of Oliver Stone’s work prior to that, however. Having grown up with the video stores, and HBO/Cinemax as my babysitter, I had already been exposed to Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, JFK, and probably more. Stone has always had this sort of psychedelic quality about his films. Even his “straight” films had frenetic editing, and other tricks that immersed audiences into Stone’s films like few directors before him. U-Turn took that trademark, and worked an entire film around it. For some, it worked, but others had complaints. U-Turn was a darker, but somewhat more mature acid trip. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that NBK was filled with that kind of stuff, and you’d be right. But with U-Turn, Stone took a book written by John Ridley(who also wrote the screenplay) and turned it into an extremely violent Southwestern Noir, with an cast full of A-listers, a beautifully photographed Arizona wasteland, and a sordid tale of sex, isolation, betrayal, and murder.
When speaking about the film now, Stone will be the first person to let you know, that younger audiences find U-Turn to be among his best work. Though Nixon separates the two films, U-Turn is the spiritual successor to Natural Born Killers. It explores some of the same territories, utilizes some of the same film-making techniques, and speaks to a younger, angrier generation than some of Stone’s other films. U-Turn is an angst-filled ride, with a spectacular performance by Sean Penn, as a former Tennis star-turned shady gambler, on the run from a mountain of debt, and the psychopath who wants his $250k. Billy Bob Thornton is phenomenal as the corrupt gas station clerk from hell, while Nick Nolte shines in the role of an aging rich guy, with a hot wife that would love nothing more than to steal his money and disappear. That hot wife is played by an up-and-coming Jennifer Lopez, who also graces the screen with one of, if not THE only on-screen nude scene in her entire career. John Voight, Powers Boothe, and many more recognizable character actors make U-Turn a much better film than it probably has any right to be.
Beyond the stellar production value, and a cast of legends, U-Turn has going for it what some movies fail to execute — not only characters that the audience can relate to, but the frustration of having a really bad day, where no matter what you do, nothing goes as planned. I have days like this every week, where everything I touch turns to shit. Sean Penn has apparently had a few days like that in his life as well, because he does a perfect job at bringing that anger and frustration to the screen. His anger evolves to the point that it becomes humorous even to him. Have you ever had such a terrible string of events happen in your life, that you just couldn’t help but laugh maniacally? Then you will be able to relate to this movie, and its main character. U-Turn is unique, in that it’s has all of the elements of Film Noir, but incorporates them into a very Southwestern setting. It might not be Oliver Stone’s best film, but it is definitely one of my personal favorites.
For a long time now, I’ve been begging for a distribution house to release U-Turn on Blu-ray, so that I could finally retire my worn-out VHS, and Twilight Time has done just that. Limited to just 3,000 copies, U-Turn is finally on Blu-ray, and aside from a few issues that late-Nineties seem to be suffering of as they make the transition to high definition, it looks and sounds fantastic. Exterior shots, which makes up for about two thirds of the film, feature a commendable level of detail and popping colors. U-Turn was shot on 35mm, with a Panavision Panaflex camera, and often features a thick level of grain — especially during night scenes, or scenes with low lighting. But, it always retains a crisp level of detail. This is how I remember seeing the film when it was released to theaters. I never upgraded from VHS to DVD, but I can say without a doubt that this will be an upgrade for those of you that did.
I’m not entirely sure how many copies of U-Turn are left out of the 3,000 unit run, or if this title is even popular enough to sell out, but just in case, you may want to head over to Screen Archives and buy your copy while they are available. Twilight Time’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release of Oliver Stone’s U-Turn is highly recommended for fans of the film, or even younger film fanatics looking to expand their library.