Stone Isn't Quite Rock Solid, But Has Strong Performances
Stone: Can we talk straight? You gonna help me out or what?A meandering drama that makes sure to preach its themes pretty loud and clear, but also features very good performances from its stars. It deals with characters suffering from their own flaws and also looks to add some twists on atonement and what makes someone a sinner. Then you have the element of a sexually charged thriller to bring in the kids. Basically you have a lot of ins and outs for this OK film.
Edward Norton stars as Gerald "Stone" Creeson; a man who has served 8 years in prison for Arson and is coming up for a parole hearing. To increase his chances for an early release, he tries to manipulate correctional officer Jack Mabrey (Robert De Niro) by playing psychological games and having his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) seduce Mabrey. Jack is a complicated character as well, weeks away from retirement, living with his own wife (Frances Conroy), who has had a troubling relationship with him over the years, as is evidenced by a shocking opening sequence. While Jack is a man living by the word of the law, his anger that boils under the surface may be undone by Lucetta, who has a way of letting herself be a perfect excuse for men to uncoil. Of course, all Stone wants is to be free, or at least in control of those who can grant him that freedom.
Lucetta: I do love my husband, and all I'm asking, is a chance for you to see him in a different light. Can I persuade you?
The four main characters in this film are all well acted. They all bring something effective and different to each of their roles. The highlights are easily De Niro and Norton. De Niro does some of the best work he's put to screen in years. His character, Jack, is a man who has a lot of problems that have continued to boil within him, as he has seemingly spent years hiding his aggression. Norton's Stone is a peculiar case of a younger man who is obviously very smart, despite having done things to end up in prison. The way Norton has given this character a specific look, speech pattern, and other little elements continues to reassure me that no matter how good the film is, he is an actor who carefully chooses the roles he wants to play. Jovovich has the most standard role as basically the skanky wife, but even as little developed as this character is, she gets more of a chance to excel than she normally does in films. And then you have Conroy who pretty much defines restrained, as she plays the long suffering wife, with a heavy religious background.
With all this being said about the actors, the film still has some main problems that hinder it. It's very slow paced. This is not normally a problem for me particularly, but it was certainly very apparent that the deliberate way this film was made did not exactly help me care more about what was going on. I enjoy a good film interested in getting into the minds of the lead characters, but this was certainly quite leisurely at getting to its points. I also had problems with the way this film handled its themes. In addition to the way the film tries to subtly build up its themes, it also bashes the audience on the head by having a faith-based radio station constantly remind us with exactly what is being communicated. Along with having one religious aspect being hammered home, the film also sets up and continues to strike upon another religious aspect that seems to have some kind of Scientology-like structure. Basically the film tries to be a little too deep when getting into the nitty-gritty of what these characters are putting their faith in, and by the time the film ends, I think the message may feel a bit muddled to some.
There are some additional elements I did enjoy. Director John Curran handles a few scenes with good use of scoring and juxtaposition with his imagery. While not a thriller, he also manages to build some tension during key sequences. It is also a very good looking film. Set in the Detroit area, while not a film about having much scope, it is well shot throughout and stays true to the characters in the way some shots are set up.
So as it stands, this film manages to hold up because of the caliber of the acting involved in this story. It has solid elements, but they have to be taken with a slow pace and some overwrought religious messages. Much like the temptation Jovovich provides for Jack in the film, I was victim to wanting to see what these actors could do here, but at a price.
Stone: Don't listen to her.