The liberal conscience of cinema in the 1980s is ready to reconsider the war that defined his art. And while Oliver Stone completed his unofficial Vietnam trilogy back in 1993 with the largely unheralded Heaven and Earth, I’ve no problem with the director returning to the conflict for further inspiration; after all, he served and earned a Purple Heart for his trouble. He’s entitled.
But I do worry about his take on the My Lai Massacre via Mikko Alanne’s screenplay Pinkville. Stone’s penchant for heavy-handed moralizing has tainted even his best work (i.e. Salvador and JFK), and has caused his two celebrated Vietnam flicks, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, to age very badly*. Meanwhile, his last film, World Trade Center, was at least politically restrained, but the absence of opprobrium made for a singularly dispassionate and forgettable work (save for everything up to the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ collapse). What to do, what to hope for?
The My Lai Massacre has gone curiously undertreated in the medium; offhand, I can’t think of a single film that deals with it exclusively, which is pretty amazing given that the heinous assault on unarmed Vietnamese civilians (and resulting cover-up) did as much as any other single event to erode American popular support for the war. I often wonder why Tim O’Brien’s excellent In the Lake of the Woods has never been turned into a film, but then I remember that the novel was stupidly done as a Hallmark Hall of Fame, made-for-TV movie. How the hell did that happen?
It’s not surprising to find United Artists supplying the financing for Stone’s film, since it’s now co-run by his Born on the Fourth of July star, Tom Cruise. Pinkville already has Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum attached; the former will play General William R. Peers, who spearheaded the inquiry into the atrocity, while the latter will appear as Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot who ordered his men to fire on their fellow soldiers should they continue to kill defenseless civilians. I wonder who gets to play that piece of shit Lt. William Calley; that’s probably a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination waiting to happen (voters love real life monsters; even James Woods got a nod for hamming it up under a half-ton of latex as Byron De La Beckwith in Rob Reiner’s wretched Ghosts of Mississippi).
Screenwriter Mikko Alanne is a relative newcomer to the drama game, but he’s got a little bit of heat thanks to his Biggie/2-Pac biopic, Notorious. Lest you think Stone sparked to the young Alanne’s script because he knows he can bully and ultimately rewrite him, remember that the director was allegedly very collaborative with World Trade Center‘s Andrea Berloff. Maybe old Ollie’s turned a corner.
Pinkville (which, FYI, was the military’s designation for My Lai), will likely begin shooting early next year provided the financing comes through.
*"I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days. As I’m sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called ‘possession of my soul.’ There are times since, I’ve felt like a child, born of those two fathers. But be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again. To teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life."