Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Oliver Stone

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 1:18

Release Date: 6/25/10 (limited); 7/2/10 (wider); 7/9/10 (wider); further expansion follows

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 8, 2010

South of the Border opens with a clip from a Fox News morning show in which the anchor has a difficult time deciding whether to say that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez chews on coca or cocoa in the morning. "What a dope," the headline graphic at the bottom states, unintentionally highlighting the inefficiency of their own on-air personality instead of making a lame pun.

This is the same anchor, I believe, who recently said she understood the pressure the President of the United States is feeling, because her job entails the same level of difficult decision-making as the leader of the free world.

Fox, which rarely uses the term "journalist" to describe its personalities but should insert a drum sting after any occasion they do, is an easy target, although director Oliver Stone seems to be on to something at the top of his new documentary. It is, after all, a look at the new generation of left-leaning leaders throughout the countries of South America, and their images have been bruised quite a lot on Fox. Here, then, could be Stone showing the antagonistic relationship between Chávez and his like-minded heads of state and the media, examining the misstatements and errors, and reconciling the facts with the hype.

That suspicion doesn't last too long. Soon enough, Stone is flying, walking around the presidential estate, and touring Caracas with Chávez, and he quickly falls into the same sort of questionable reporting for which he sporadically blasts the American media. South of the Border becomes a puff piece of partisan propaganda that is transparent to both sides.

Stone starts with Chávez, showing the way Fox and former president George W. Bush and his administration would regularly bash the Venezuelan President. Stone argues it was over oil (and ties to countries like Iran, just as a parenthetical). He then gives us the rundown of the history of Chávez's political life. He attempted coup in 1992, rose to prominence for his socialist politics in the midst of an economic slump, and was elected president in 1998.

When Stone isn't giving Chávez a platform, screenwriters Mark Weisbrot and Tariq Ali's narration (read by Stone in a dreary, pause-heavy monotone) highlights the good of the president's term and ignores any criticism as simple media bias.

In perhaps the most obvious hypocritical moment of the movie, Stone (and Weisbrot and Ali) say the concept of human rights is just "buzz words." He then discusses Chavez in comparison to the leadership of Colombia, an American ally in the war on drugs, that is much worse on that front.  That's a pretty impressive display of a spectacular logical fallacy, in which Stone dismisses an argument only to use it to back up his statement, all the while never offering an example to reject the position or support his assertion.

Travelling to visit other leaders of a similar political bent in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Cuba, the movie also acts as an ego trip for Stone. While talking with Chávez in front of a painting of Simón Bolívar, the namesake of Chávez's ideal revolution for a South America united through economic philosophy, Stone grabs the president and moves him into a "better" position in frame. When this happens again with a local man, it makes the production seem hurried and half-hearted. When Fernando Lugo of Paraguay says he would consider help from Chávez, Stone is certain economic aid would be forthcoming if only the director ask the Venezuelan president on Lugo's behalf. Don't forget, Stone reminds a group of reporters interviewing him in footage that's only in the movie so the director can show his visit was of note, he sat down with Fidel Castro.

With each country's head of state saying essentially the same thing, the politics become dull. Only Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina appears irritated with Stone's high opinion of himself, so he just sort of laughs her off during their interview as a fiery woman with a sense of humor.

When Stone examines the media portrayal of Chávez, especially in displaying how a 2002 attempt to overthrow the president was edited by some news broadcasts to place blame on Chávez supporters, South of the Border starts to take a worthwhile form. Otherwise, it's a one-sided document of a clear blowhard with some interviews of South American leaders on the side.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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