REVIEW: Oliver Stone's Suck-Up Safari Dooms South of the Border

Movieline Score:
southofborder_rev_1.jpg

An extended belly-bump of a documentary, South of the Border is Oliver Stone's feel-good take on the new South American politics. A vanity project by proxy, Stone attempts to restore (in the case of Hugo Chávez) and establish the reputations of the new guard of South American leadership, a superfriends conglomerate that rejects the imperial interests of the United States. Though he lavishes praise on his subjects for being hyper-masculine and free-thinking, Stone is downright girlish in his devotion, scoffing at charges made against the leaders rather than examining them. The plethora of Fox News-based inanity makes such elisions pretty easy: Obviously the haters -- notably a pair of anchors who can't tell the difference between cocoa and coca -- are nuts, right?

After spending 78 minutes with Chávez and Co., I still have no idea. Stone ends a prolonged bitchslap of the "mainstream media" (which he blames for the Iraq war, and hence, the vilification of oil-rich Venezuela's uncooperative leader) with Michael Moore's infamous confrontation of Wolf Blitzer. "We're in the fifth year of this war because you and CNN [...] didn't do your jobs back then," Moore barks, securing a spot in YouTube heaven. Citing the godfather of gotcha docs is Stone's cue to move directly into blissfully, stridently biased mode himself.

"Who is Chávez?" Stone asks. That question never gets a satisfying answer, though "Who isn't Chávez?" fares a little better. First of all: He's not a dictator, he just looks like one. A former militant who led a failed coup in 1992, Chávez was voted into office in 1998, and has been trying to change the legislation to extend his presidency ever since. Stone suggests that the International Monetary Fund and the D.E.A. are responsible for much of the continent's economic and drug troubles, having infected it with America's version of "predatory capitalism." Countries that are not willing to play along with American interests -- such as Venezuela and Bolivia -- are punished accordingly. Stone focuses largely on the Bush years, homing in on the attempted overthrow of Chávez's government in 2002. The fallout from Chávez's 47-hour detention by the military -- and the U.S.'s deafening silence -- soured relations between the two countries in earnest.

Stone relishes replaying clips of Chávez's visit to the UN, where he complained of the whiff of sulfur still lingering at the podium where Bush had recently stood. He loves the character at least as much as the leader, which makes for some uneasy and utterly fascinating interplay between them: As Chávez muses off the cuff about his hero, Simon Bolivar, while approaching an oil portrait of him, Stone physically repositions him in front of the painting for optimum effect, manipulating a media moment right before our eyes. We can practically see hearts burst over Stone's head as Chávez shrugs about how late he works and how little he sleeps. "What impressed me about Chávez," he says later, "was his strength. He's a bull! He's like Castro -- he kept it up."

Just what exactly Chávez is keeping up is not made sufficiently clear. There are plenty of bullsh*t sessions about nurturing a young democracy and playing footsie with socialist policy. Mention is also made of rejecting international lenders and building sovereign oil and agriculture economies, but only in passing; even then the discussions are clouded by the haze of mutual admiration that hangs over the men, who wind up unironically bonding over a Hemingway story. "Some say Chávez loves the poor people so much he created millions of new ones," says one dissenter, but the charge is dismissed as soon as it is made. Instead we cut to a photo of Chávez's grandmother, who he says died too young from overwork. A little later we are subjected to Chávez's moonlit reverie over his 1992 exploits; he points like Babe Ruth at the presidential palace in the distance and talks of his military duty to overthrow a corrupt regime. "As a soldier, I understand," Stone says. As a viewer, I do not care.

More interesting -- if only slightly less puff-prone -- are Stone's encounters with other South American leaders, including Bolivia's Evo Morales and the Kirchners of Argentina. As a group they do suggest a movement toward socialism, and a more interactive approach to governance. But any information gleaned from these meetings has to be filtered for a host of impurities. Though Stone gushes over Paraguay's president, the most he can manage for Cristina Kirchner, Argentina's first elected female president, is a question about how many shoes she owns. It's pretty much unbearable.

At some point they settle down enough for Kirchner to suggest that the United States is responsible for Argentina's post-recession poverty rate of 56%. Or maybe it just looked like she did; most of the continent's problems are pinned on the U.S., either implicitly or by editorial association, in South of the Border. Is extreme bias warranted where an extreme correction is necessary? It can be, as the more gutting of Michael Moore's polemics attest. But this? This is a grown man who should know better, trying to make political sport from his presidential safari.

PREVIOUSLY: Oliver Stone on Gonzo Docmaking and 'Good Guy' Hugo Chávez



Comments

  • syd says:

    i haven't seen the movie, but i pretty much expected this after reading his interview here on movieline. how pathetic did he sound saying "what harm has chavez done?". i'm guessing mister stone doesn't know much about south america's history and politics. it's so naive of him to simply believe what the man tells him.
    maybe he should move to venezuela and try to live there under chavez wonderful administration... i for one would want to stay the hell away from there. what about brazil? is lula in it?

  • Sandy says:

    If you don't want to be as ignorant as a MovieLine movie reviewer, see this documentary. TV news has been dumbed down, cable TV will not allow you to see some documentaries in the US, and newspapers have been gutted to "maximize profits", so if you are actually curious as to what is going on in the world, you're left with docs like this, the Internet, and books.
    It's twilight time for the American Empire - to see what's happening in "America's Backyard" now that the American Military is bogged down securing the final oil supplies in the Middle East, and the American Economy has maxed out its world credit card, follow Oliver Stone as he talks to key, independent leaders.
    http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5447
    If you are tired of Corporate News Network and Paranoia TV (FOX), try some News which is not a Product sold to make shareholders wealthier:
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=272

  • voxypop says:

    Oliver Stone may be a good movie maker, but when it comes to politics he dont know crap. If he thinks Hugo Chavz is a hero..then the next movie he will make will be about the USA bombing Chavez's oil fields. If Stone cant understand that this evil Marxist man is a complete enemy of the country that Stone lives in and is so sucessful.. Its a good exmple of the Left going to far and falling off the cliff. STOP BUYING OIL FROM THIS MONSTER CHAVEZ!

  • Michael says:

    You sound naive. First, before you jump to the conclusion about this documentary, watch this documentary first. Second, read some history about the new world and the conspiracy from our USA government. How the main stream media constantly lie to the American people. Seems to me you are one of those who listen the FoxNews and believe what they say. I think you are the one who needs to move to Venezuela and live there for a little while. One thing for sure, they have more democracy then what you think we have here in USA.

  • Michael says:

    You sound naive. First, before you jump to the conclusion about this documentary, watch this documentary first. Second, read some history about the new world and the conspiracy from our USA government. How the main stream media constantly lie to the American people. Seems to me you are one of those who listen the FoxNews and believe what they say. I think you are the one who needs to move to Venezuela and live there for a little while. One thing for sure, they have more democracy then what you think we have here in USA.

  • kmaakheru says:

    I have read your comment and only have this to say... you must be totally SANE!

  • Seth Pimpare says:

    I just read a magazine on the area. This article adds to the discussion of that piece.

  • g says:

    Its really a matter of whether or not you believe that you are covered by predatory capitalisms tiny umbrella - weve literally been bred to have kneejerk reactions and deragatory feelings about ANY other country- besides the USA - oh and of course Israel too - hollywoods been pretty profound in assuring that is included in your warm and fuzzy radar

  • g says:

    the sign of a BAD movie reviewer is that their opinion comes from a politically motivated viewpoint NOT from an artistic understanding of the movie itself - - thats why youve risen to the great ranks of a critic - instead of an actual writer or producer -" ms orange"

  • If you are looking for fast diet way, you can use my way. I lost 9 pounds in 3 weeks. If you are serious about diet you should have a look this way. It is fast if you know right info to do diet. You can get more info here link below.

  • Very usefull blog. i will follow this blog. keep up the good work.

Post a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s