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Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Stone’

October 5, 2010
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If you’ve been following the marketing for Stone, you are no doubt poised to see a psychological thriller, of sorts.

Unfortunately, Stone plays more like a  psychodrama than a psychological thriller.  The movie does a bang-up  job of establishing that something very, very  bad is going to happen.  Through music, imagery and a frightening  flashback we are conditioned to believe that there will be a showdown between good and evil.  I found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, but it never does.

A strangely meandering story just sort of sputters out, and the film ends abruptly, prompting a “huh, you mean that was it?” It’s a pity, because there was a lot of potential in the movie.

Robert De Niro stars as Jack Mabry, a parole officer who works in a prison, reviewing cases to determine which inmates are qualified for a parole hearing.  He pores over the minutiae of each case, studies the files and conducts in-depth interviews with the potential parolees.  He is about to retire from his position when he is given one last case to review.

Edward Norton plays Gerald Creeson, who goes by the moniker “Stone.”  He is Jack’s last case. He has served ten years for arson, and he is starting to lose his mind within the confines of prison.  He is desperate to get out.  His sex-kitten wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) is also eager to have him back in her bed, and she is more than willing to use her sexuality to influence Jack’s decision.

The most interesting thing about the movie is the character study between Jack and Stone.  Though Jack listens to christian radio 24/7, and reads the bible nightly with his wife, he is not a particularly good man. By all appearances, he is a pious man, but as soon as he arrives home on any given day he hits the whiskey bottle.

Long ago he sadistically broke the spirit of his wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy), and the fact that he is so easily tempted by the Lucette is indicative of his strong lack of moral fortitude.  He doesn’t even attempt to resist her charms, even though it is morally and ethically sinful.

During an emotionally charged discussion in one of their interviews, Stone says something to the effect of “how do you get to judge someone?”  It’s a fair question.

Meanwhile, Stone becomes increasingly cagey and paranoid in prison, and has a religious epiphany.  Is it the real deal, or is it a convenient coping mechanism for his prison surroundings?  He swears that he is a changed man.  It is an interesting idea that the two men might literally change places: the law man becomes the corrupted, and the outlaw is washed clean of his sins.

Of course, it is not all that cut and dried, and it is not as interesting as it could have been.  The film stops short of going some places I wanted to see it go.

The sole reason to watch the film is for the amazing performances.  De Niro does his usual thing, but Norton is really astounding as he adapts the talk, swagger, and physical mannerisms of Stone, a trashy white felon who wears cornrows and tries to be a tough guy.   Any  semblance of Norton is gone-it’s just Stone you see on screen.

The women both turn out strong performances.  Frances Conroy is so convincing as the utterly defeated Madylyn that it is eerie.  Her eyes have nothing behind them, they are absolutely dead.  It is telling that although she spends little time on screen, it is (Conroy’s) character that haunts you long after the film concludes.

Milla Jovovich gets to stretch her wings as well; this is a meatier role than she has tackled before.  Jovovich has excelled in physically demanding roles, but this is the first time where she actually gets to act. Lucette’s sociopath tendencies are conveyed with Jovovich’s eyes and mouth.  She can be seductive and charming one moment, then petulant and unsure in the next.

Lucette’s character is somewhat grating, but Jovovich’s performance is not.

I really wanted to love this film, I even went back to see it a second time to see if there was something I didn’t catch, but there wasn’t.  It’s just not a horribly compelling film, although the last act is sure to provoke heated discussion.  I found the discussions I had with colleagues after the film more interesting than the actual film.

Stone is directed by John Curran, starring Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, and Milla Jovovich.  2.5/5

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