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U Turn

    Ian Jane

  • U Turn

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: March 2015.
    Director: Oliver Stone
    Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe
    Year: 1997
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Based on the novel by John Ridle and directed by Oliver Stone in 1997, U Turn is the story of a man named Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) who is hiding from his past. When we meet him he's driving through Arizon trying to get to Las Vegas to pay off a rather sizeable gambling debt he owes to some Russian mobsters… the kind of Russian mobsters that cut off your finger if you're late with their money. When his car breaks down, he finds himself stranded in a small, almost deserted town named Superior. The only inhabitants seem to be insane and Bobby would like nothing better than to get out of there as soon as he possibly can. He leaves his car with the only mechanic around (Billy Bob Thornton) and figures once it's roadworthy again, he'll be on his way.

    Unfortunately it doesn't work out that way. When he heads into a story to get a drink, two armed robbers show up and in the ensuing gunfight, that bag of cash Bobby has been carrying around gets hit with a shotgun blast, the cash shredded to bits. Without a way to pay the mechanic, he can't get his car back and without his car, he's more or less stuck. There might be a way out for him though when an aging real estate man named Jake McKenna (Nick Nolte) offers to pay Bobby to knock off his pretty young wife, Grace (Jennifer Lopez). Bobby gives this notion some serious thought but soon finds himself falling for Grace. When he does, she in turn asks Bobby to get rid of Jake for her instead. She knows he's got a whole lot of cash locked away in the house. The more Bobby gets involved with these two, the weirder things get for him. And there's the sheriff (Powers Boothe) who seems to show up at the most convenient times, and the town tough guy, Toby N. Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix) - they call him T.N.T. because when he goes off, people get hurt.

    Oliver Stone takes a rather standard film noir plot and gives it an updating through the use of some of the mixed media techniques that he experimented with in Natural Born Killers and some rather unorthodox cinematography. When the action goes out into the desert, the movie looks 'hot' and when things calm down a bit, the visuals cool down. The scene in which Bobby and Grace head into her house and flirt with one another has some nice, shadowy style to it. The whole town of Superior feels trapped in time - it has the feel of decades past and as such, it makes for a great location for Bobby Cooper's story to play out in.

    A well rounded supporting cast featuring fun smaller roles from Julie Haggerty, Laurie Metcalf, Liv Tyler, Claire Danes, Jon Voight and the aforementioned Joaquin Phoenix (who steals every scene that he's in) complement the main cast members nicely, highlighted by a very strong performance from Sean Penn in the lead. As Bobby, Penn shows some good range. He can be intense and violent in certain scenes but he also plays beaten up and downtrodden really well here too. As he becomes increasingly out of options, his performance becomes a bit more manic but he never overdoes it, even if he comes close at times. Jennifer Lopez is also fantastic here. She's definitely got the smoldering sex pot thing down but her character is damaged and this comes out in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Powers Boothe plays tough guy cop characters in that awesome way that only Powers Boothe can while Nickl Nolte is fantastic as the sleazy, conflicted elder man with his claws sunk deep into Grace and a past that will definitely come back to haunt him. Throw in Billy Bob Thornton as the world's scuzziest, greasiest and toothiest mechanic and it's easy to see just how important the casting is to the success of this film.

    The film also has great, quirky score (courtesy of Ennio Morricone) that at first feels add odds against the gritty visuals and dark storyline but soon falls into place and sets up a nice contrast in the look, sound and overall feel of the film. Some great old country music is worked into the film's soundtrack to nice effect too - Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash - good stuff like that.

    While it may not be as heavy a picture as some Stone's better known and more critically acclaimed films, U Turn is a great piece of stylish and interesting entertainment. The film tells a great story with a great cast through some great visuals.


    U Turn hits Blu-ray from Twilight Time in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Given that different film stocks and techniques were used to capture different scenes it makes sense that the image would be a bit erratic, and it is, but that was part of Stone's aesthetic at this point in his career. As such, some of the outdoor scenes are grainier and less detailed sporting some pretty hot contrast and occasionally blown out colors, while the indoor scenes show excellent detail, much calmer grain and much more natural color reproduction. Black levels are nice and solid throughout, texture and depth are pleasing and there are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement. Print damage is never a problem either and there aren't any obvious compression artifacts. If you've seen U Turn before you'll know what to expect - it's an intentionally rough looking film at times, but this Blu-ray presents it quite nicely and offers a considerable upgrade over past DVD issues.

    The only audio option for the feature itself is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional subtitles provided in English. The audio on the disc is also very strong, with solid bass and clean, clear channel separation throughout. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced throughout. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the score has some really nice weight behind it. This is a solid mix, through and through.

    The extras start off with a quick introduction (optional) to the movie from Stone, who also provides a full length commentary track. If you've listened to any of Stone's commentary tracks before you know that he's a pretty interesting guy and not one to mix words. Here he offers up an interesting 'warts and all' dissection of the movie, going into quite a bit of detail about what it was like working with not only the leads in the movie but the ensemble players that round out the cast as well. He speaks about shooting on location, about the visuals and the occasionally hyper kinetic editing style, Morricone's score and the use of music throughout the movie and quite a bit more.

    The disc also includes a second commentary courtesy of producer/production executive Mike Medavoy joined by film historian Nick Redman. This one is a bit more scene specific, even analytical at times, with Redman offering up some interesting critical insight into the effectiveness of certain aspects of the film and Medavoy sharing his thoughts on what it was like working on the picture. The two men have a good, friendly vibe going here and Redman, occasionally serving as a moderator of sorts, is able to get some good stories out of Medavoy making this quite worth listening to.

    Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, Ennio Morricone's isolated score in DTS-HD 2.0, an interactive catalog of Twilight Time releases, menus and chapter selection. Inside the Blu-ray case is an insert booklet of liner notes from Julie Kirgo that make the case for the movie as film noir (and rightly so) and which elaborate quite nicely on the film's look and the performances it contains. A good read as always, and some nice archival images accompany the essay.

    The Final Word:

    U Turn isn't the first film that comes to mind for most people when discussing Oliver Stone's output but it is one of his most entertaining films. Sean Penn and the rest of the cast, particularly Nolte and Thornton, do great work while the stylish look of the movie keeps it easy to watch. It's a tense, sexy, dirty and violent picture but damn it all if it isn't a blast to watch. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a good one, presenting the film in excellent condition and with some decent supplements as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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