Stone (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Jan/110

Stone (2010)

Andrew INDIFFERENTStone falls victim to the same curse that taints many personally fueled "revelation" movies.  It's earnest to the degree that moments of dramatic insight sometimes feel that they should have a laugh track attached because they skirt the edge of irony.  If you want to see Edward Norton and Robert De Niro have at it, then you'll be partially fulfilled - the rest of us expect a good dramatic flick aren't going to be so lucky.

The omnipresent melodrama, thankfully and somewhat unfortunately, reaches it's climax in the opening moments of the movie.  A woman is calmly stroking her child while a man sits in a chair watching a football game with a very determined look on his face.  After putting the child to bed she announces that she is leaving him and please don't stop her and yadda, yadda, yadda.  His response is to go upstairs, grab their child and threaten to throw her out the window.  All of this is done while a bee hums ominously close to the man's hand.

Melodrama aside, it's nice to see De Niro giving a damn in a role again.

I admit I had to stifle a chuckle during this and similarly over the top scenes over the course of Stone.  Worse, the scene has very little to do with either character but provides us a needlessly exploitative "child in danger" moment to set up the relative quiet of the church the man and woman find themselves in many years into the future.  The man's ploy worked and they are still together, at which point we're finally provided with their names of Jack (Robert De Niro) and Madylyn Mabry (a completely wasted Frances Conroy).  After returning home from church we see that life hasn't changed too much for them, he still sits in the chair and she still flits about the house trying not to go crazy.

Jack is close to retiring from his position as a parole officer for a local prison.  One day he's assigned the case of "Stone" Creeson (Edward Norton), a convicted arsonist who comes equipped with his pseudo femme fatale wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), who will do anything to free him.  The two talk out their Stone's case as Stone tries not to go crazy in prison and Lucetta hatches a plan to try and convince Jack to let Stone out early.

This is all hamfisted cliche' folks.  The prisoner who just wants to be free and starts a spritual journey.  The supposed moral leader who has a past as troubled as the prisoner.  The sexy wife who may not have the best interests of her husband at heart.  Then the crazy wife who just wants her kind of policeman husband to come home safely.  None of these materials are new and director John Curran presents them as if they are the most devastating and fresh revelations in cinema.

In addition to the baby tossing scene opening the film we have a similar broad moments as when Stone sees a fellow inmate killed in front of him.  Or the funeral for Jack's brother where he realizes he may not be the best person in the world.  Or the numerous cringe/laugh worthy moments when Lucetta tries to seduce Jack.  All of this is set to a very irritating AM radio soundtrack where a preacher spells out the theme's of the film for us with insights like "If a man sins does it make him a sinner or does he sin because he's a sinner?"  Stone provides a pretty obvious answers to that and other similarly broad questions.

Jovovich combines smolder and distaste in just the right proportion.

There is some good that can be salvaged out of Stone.  The acting all across the board is fairly stellar.  Robert De Niro has become something of a parody of his former self in recent years, but pulls himself together to deliver a quietly tormented and angry performance as Jack.  I was also intensely grateful anytime Milla Jovovich was on-screen because she played her femme fatale role with just the right level of smolder and distaste for her actions, in addition to providing a much needed tonal shift from all the towering moral conundrums.

The gold star for the production goes to Edward Norton though.  This isn't the first time that he's been in an film that's a bit too serious for it's own good (American History X, The Painted Veil) but he crafts a fascinating character with Stone.  He's not a hard-ass prison case, just a wounded guy who's trying to get out of a bad situation and looking for a little guidance.  The tone that Norton strikes with this is uncanny and when coupled with the high pitched but still gravely voice of stone he becomes very affecting.

Director John Curran has developed a sad pattern of making these kinds of overly dramatic films that have nothing new to say (We Don't Live Here Anymore and he directed Norton in The Painted Veil).  I applaud him for his intentions with these films, and know that it is not easy to get these kind of ponderous stories made into movies.  But beneath the excellent performances there's nothing to say, and when redemption's on the table I always hope for a little more insight than "sinners sin".

Stone (2010)
Directed by John Curran.
Written by Angus MacLachlan.
Starring Robert De Niro,  Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, and Frances Conroy.

Posted by Andrew

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