HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.78. U TURN 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 120 mins
Bobby is a drifter who has already lost two of his fingers to people he owes money to. Whilst transporting the money to California, his car breaks down, forcing him to drive to the nearest town, Superior, Arizona. While waiting for his car to be fixed, he wanders around the town and meets Grace. After much flirtation they are caught kissing by Grace’s husband Jake, who hits him but later asks Bobby if he would kill her for a price claiming that he is sick of her games. Bobby laughs this off but then has his bag of money taken during a convenience store robbery. Broke and without the means to even leave the town as he cannot pay the mechanic, Bobby frantically calls nearly everyone he knows trying to get money to fix his car, but with no luck forthcoming, decides to take up Jakes’s offer…..
U Turn is a ridiculously over the top, very twisted, blackly comic tragedy, Oliver Stone’s version of a film noir [combined with maybe a dash of the Western and perhaps adding hallucinogenic drugs], incorporating all the elements you would expect; a doomed central character who wallows in an ever-deepening pit, gangsters, a femme fatale who we can’t seem to figure out, murder, sexual perversion etc, and ramping up all these elements to the eleventh degree. Stone doesn’t do subtle, he does ‘in your face’, and U Turn tells its story with such incredible cinematic verve that it’s a joy to just turn the sound down [despite the brilliance of the soundtrack] and watch the images. After making many films which had political or social messages, Stone said that he wanted to make a film that was just for entertainment with U Turn, but despite the film’s supposed innocuousness, light heartedness and seemingly callous cruelty and nastiness, it’s also rather sad and even moving, which for me helps give it considerable power.
Yes, I’m very fond of U Turn, even though it wasn’t received too well upon release. Of course it borrows elements from classic film noirs like Double Indemnity and Out Of The Past, and maybe even more from some ‘neo’-noirs like The Hot Spot and Red Rock West, the latter of which has a very similar story, but Stone makes it entirely his own film. The screenplay was actually based on a book called Stray Dogs by John Ridley, who adapted it for the screen though Stone and Richard Rutowksi later rewrote it, in particular altering the ending, making it even more downbeat and somewhat amusing too. Ridley’s story was actually inspired by a true event when a man disappeared into a south-western American town and was never heard from again. The two lead roles were actually intended for Tom Cruise and Sharon Stone. Probably the most amusing thing about the production is that it was partially filmed in a town actually called Superior, which is also in Arizona just like in the film!
Tom Cruise can be a good actor but I think most can agree that he wouldn’t have been as good as Sean Penn for this particular movie. Penn is perfect, he makes you like Bobby, but also makes you aware that he is a total loser who has probably been an idiot his whole life and thereby enables the viewer to laugh at his constant misfortunes. Some of U Turn, especially the first third, is extremely funny as more and more shit just keeps on happening to him. His car breaks down. Darrell the mechanic actually seems to make his car worse and certainly seems to drag out the repair time so he can charge more and more money. He meets Grace who just teases him and then he is punched by her husband. He encounters another, even weirder couple where the girl seems to flirt with every man in sight and Bobby is almost beaten up by the aggressive boyfriend. His bag of money is taken and then shot to bits. He can’t even get a soda; he accidently smashes the bottle as he tries to open it. And, of course, he becomes more and more embroiled in intrigue involving Grace and her husband and thereby sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire that all the folk who populate Superior seem to be caught in.
There are pricelessly funny scenes between Bobby and Darrell, played by an almost unrecognisable Billy Bob Thornton, and looking like he was born in and has spent his whole life in a junkyard. The film never loses its sense of irony, but as the plot thickens it does take well-managed serious turns. This is especially when the movie involves Grace, who at first appears to be a typical femme fatale, but we then learn that she has had the most horrific life right from childhood. We feel great pity for me, but never really get to know her as she goes from victim to heroine to villain over and over again, and certainly never seem to know what she is thinking. I think that’s exactly the point; Grace’s past has ensured that she doesn’t know who she is herself. It’s a fascinating character, with depths that a young Jennifer Lopez sadly can’t really do much with [though fans should know that this is the only film where you see her topless]. Equally odd is the supposed ‘love’ story, a ‘love’ [if it can be called that] that exists just around the corner from death [they even have sex besides a corpse] and can end in no other way but violent bloodshed, in a climax that almost seems like Stone’s tribute to the unforgettable ending of Duel In The Sun.
Though it doesn’t shy away from brutality, U Turn is not that violent visually. It’s the ever-permeating sense of perversion and just pure evil that lingers more, like a bad smell, or more appropriately, like road kill, with which the picture opens; what you see is really ugly but you just have to stop and look. As he sometimes does, Stone directs this movie in a deliberately over-the-top manner, using every manner of cinematic device. U Turn almost drowns in Stone’s use of everything from black and white to bleached shots to bizarre cutaways which at times seem random but show what a character is thinking, but it shows a person’s sheer joy of creating cinema. Some of my favourite bits are of the more subtle kind, such as when a very unnerving bit where Bobby is talking to Darrell and he appears to teleport a few feet, showing Bobby’s fear of this intimidating character. Things which don’t work too well include the secondary odd couple that Bobby encounters every now and again; they are obviously intended as an echo of Grace and Jake but seem a bit superfluous if undoubtedly funny. Then there’s the Native American medicine man, played by Jon Voight [and oddly sounding like Harvey Keitel]. I’ve never really worked out what his role is except to provide a little bit of that Indian mysticism that Stone sometimes put in his films for possibly no other reason than he thinks it’s cool.
Typically for Stone, the soundtrack of U Turn is great and very well used; sometimes Stone will have a song and part of the score blend in and out of each other. The country and western songs like Peggy Lee’s It’s A Good Day are not exactly by cup of tea but the way they are used provides extar irony, but the score by Ennio Morricone is another fine example of this composer’s genius, deliberately echoing his spaghetti western scores but with a sharp, modern veneer. Morricone shows his skill in particular with his theme for Grace, which instead of being the usual lyrical melody is a simple four-note pattern which changes its instrumentation every few seconds [has he ever used the wordless female voice so hauntingly?]. It’s a perfect encapsulation of a character who appears to constantly change but actually remains a mystery. U Turn may, in the end, simply be a bit of a lark in somewhat bad taste, but it has humanity and compassion too. Every time I watch it, I care. I feel like crying at Grace’s life [in particular a really sordid final bit of information near the end] and what she has become. I pray that Bobby will get out of this nightmare that he is trapped in. U Turn is a film of deep frustration, but in the best possible way. It’s characters may not be ‘nice’, but they are all struggling to escape from the Hell they are not only inprisoned in but have unwittingly devised for themselves, and their anguished cries for help are extremely powerful and extremely sad. This is a highly underrated movie and one of Stone’s most sheerly enjoyable pictures.