Whether this is the story we want to see from either of them is up for discussion.
Benicio del Toro hasn’t truly gone intimate in a movie for a hot minute. He’s become an increasingly sought-after commodity in franchise films, so much so that his last three releases have been sequels. Granted, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is a far cry from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Avengers: Infinity War, budget-wise. However, each of these films function in the same way within the context of del Toro’s filmography: they provide him with roles that ultimately put distance between the audience and his characters.
Which is a darn shame, because del Toro has been known for delivering gentle yet emotionally staggering performances. He needs to get back to the days of 21 Grams and Things We Lost in the Fire with all of their empathetic complexities. Can he get that in Oliver Stone’s next movie? I’m not sure.
As reported by Deadline, del Toro and Stone are re-teaming for the family drama White Lies, having previously worked together on the crime thriller Savages. Stone penned the screenplay for the new film as well, with production slated to begin in spring 2019.
The New York-based drama has been billed as an “intimate” portrait of familial strife. Jack (del Toro), the child of divorcees, is not doing much better with his own marriage and troubled son. While evidently making the same mistakes as his parents, Jack seeks solace in lust “to free himself.” When he finally meets a woman who seems to be his complete opposite in every way, that’s when Jack’s life begins to get back on track.
As a generational drama, White Lies not only serves as a shift in actorly terrain for post-2010 del Toro; Stone’s directorial repertoire could get a refresher with it as well. After Snowden, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and Savages proved sprawling narratives aren’t doing Stone any favors in recent years, the choice to go a little more contained in his next fiction venture is different enough to spark intrigue.
Yet, in the kind of male-dominated cinematic landscape we’re all used to by now – where men in movies are no strangers to cathartic stories – the sort of plot outlined in White Lies is, in itself, absolutely nothing new. An iffy family man who apparently needs to experiment with sex and toxicity in order to “find himself” is the last narrative to endorse without scrutiny. It sounds especially unappealing after Stone has been singled out for gross and creepy behavior towards women in his own right.
And yeah, women? Few and far between in an Oliver Stone movie in general and seemingly already missing from White Lies – at least, that can be said for the ones who have separate journeys and concerns than Jack’s. This recurrent theme in Stone’s M.O., which displays a terrible track record when it comes to portraying women as well-rounded people, desperately needs to change.
Besides these concerns, we’re left wondering if Stone’s most persistent signature — politics — will factor into White Lies too. His most impactful films have married commentary into the intensity of their dramatic storylines. The subversive Talk Radio and the excessive first Wall Street film are prime examples that ask questions about the status quo, even if they aren’t exempt from the very institutions they criticize.
In the case of White Lies, it’s tough to determine the role of politics so early in the film’s development process. Nevertheless, family can be tricky and thorny. Domestic affairs have the potential to be steeped in cultural commentary. The nature versus nurture aspect of Jack’s upbringing and whether his legacy of bad deeds will carry on in his reportedly unruly son will undoubtedly play a big part in his odyssey of self-discovery. And perhaps presenting these issues in the guise of a smaller film could result in a less ham-fisted and more discerning Stone film.
Because there is no doubt that del Toro himself will bring so much to the table, especially when given a script with enough nuance. His prior collaboration with Stone definitely does not fit the bill in this regard. That wouldn’t have been the point of a film so reminiscent of the vivid excess of Natural Born Killers anyway, yet if only Savages had been more holistically sound in the first place to make for a satisfying viewing experience.
But del Toro has such a talent for magnetic understatement regardless. That’s how he successfully portrayed Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s eponymous two-part epic Che and morphed his role in the first Sicario film into someone we could easily invest in despite his unsavory methods as an assassin. His Pablo Escobar in Escobar: Paradise Lost is dreadful, chilling, and manipulative in the best way, making the otherwise formulaic script of the film work.
Then there are the aforementioned films 21 Grams and Things We Lost in the Fire — what I’d personally count as highlights in del Toro’s overall career. The former movie has the virtue of being a taxing claustrophobic Alejandro González Iñárritu drama, a film so strongminded in pushing its characters beyond their limits of suffering. Del Toro was deserving of his Oscar nomination for 21 Grams due to his ability to seamlessly navigate grief and anger, mourning and violence.
Subsequently, Things We Lost in the Fire is a more subdued version of what del Toro does in 21 Grams. Susanne Bier’s film works so well for being pared down, focusing on the emotional performances that underpin a universally relatable story about anguish. A simmering danger bubbles beneath the surface of del Toro’s character, a heroin addict who moves in with his dead best friend’s wife and children in a bid at recovery. With his own demons to battle yet undeniable love for the family whose lives are uprooted in more ways than one, del Toro is electric.
To see del Toro become that kind of family man again, no matter how flawed, would be a no-brainer, but if White Lies isn’t worth it, the effort would be wasted. However, maybe Stone will actually have an epiphany with his latest dramatic effort and break the cycle of lackluster movies that has plagued him for a while by doing something different. At any rate, White Lies has some work cut out for it, but it isn’t a lost cause.