Going into Stone I had to say that my expectations were through the roof. Just the name Edward Norton alone peaks my celluloid attention. Say what you will about Norton, but as of late the guy is on top of his game. Throw Robert De Niro into the mix and you already have me thinking of The Score and how fun that movie was. Add an introspective look at religion and you’ve really got me, I had to pinch myself for a bit and wonder if they had made this film just for me. Well, that was the dream and the film was a little closer to reality, but a reality I still enjoyed.
The premise alone smells like Oscar bait. We have Edward Norton as Stone, a street smart convict that is up for parole, the only thing that stands between him and freedom is Jack Mabry a parole officer played by Robert De Niro, should we just hand over the award now? Stone is trying to convince Jack that he is ready to be released even if that means that his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) might have to help Jack make up his mind. Jack gets tangled in Stone’s mind games and Lucetta’s legs but it’s the change that Stone is truly having that shakes Jack’s moral core the most. The film takes a look at all of it’s main characters in two ways showing the persona they show to everyone else and who they truly are inside.
This is the part of the film that will grab you or push you away. The reality that Director John Curran creates is dark and bleak and can hit you right where it hurts. It’s the reality of the film that gives it limitations. I felt like Curran could have given the film some Hollywood sensuality and really brought more of a crowd in, but it’s his decision to leave it dark and open ended that makes it special. I’m not saying that the film is perfect it has it’s flaws and left me wanting more, but I can say that I spent the rest of the night discussing it with those who had shared in it’s experience. Instead of the normal film conversation about specific parts of the film we talked about it’s whole and how it made us feel. When a movie does that you can’t ask for much more.
While the film’s moral compass was a highlight it’s the acting that makes the film worth watching. The acting by Norton, De Niro, Jovovich, and Conroy is nothing but exceptional. De Niro is starting to win me over again; with Stone along with Everybody’s Fine I am slowly forgetting that I thought he had lost his touch. It seems that he is starting to make all the right decisions again and as Jack he is right at home. The back and forth between De Niro and Norton is like listening to a great song on repeat and hoping it will never stop. I couldn’t help but to direct all my attention to Norton’s performance during these drawn out conversations about life’s direction. He commands respect and as Stone shows he has even more in his bag of acting tricks that he’s just dying to let out. With a raised eyebrow Norton can say so much more than any words could reveal about his character. Norton becomes these people as any star power he has quickly disappears and you forget that he is anyone but Stone.
Along with the two male leads the female side of this couldn’t be filled with two more opposite characters. On one side we have the reserved christian that may be growing a little homicidal toward her loveless husband and on the other we have a school teacher that would do anything to please her man, or any man for that matter. The more conservative Madylyn is played remarkably by Frances Conroy. She brings a jaw-dropping range to the character making the scenes with Madylyn some of my favorite in the film. The only disappointing thing about her performance was how few opportunities we had with her, this is one of my biggest gripes with the film. A little more time spent here could have brought so much more meaning to her story along with the film. Conroy did such a fantastic job that it was a real shame that we didn’t get to see more from her performance. On the other hand there wasn’t much of Jovovich we didn’t see as most of her acting is done on her back. Joking aside, Jovovich did a fantastic job as the sex-crazed elementary teacher. Her seductive dominance left nothing to be desired and showed that given the opportunity she can bring a lot more to a film than her stunning good looks.
There are few movies out there that challenge you like Stone. I love it when a film gets you thinking and is more than just an escape. Stone points a finger at your beliefs and doesn’t let go. To most, this is a very depressing road to travel and Stone doesn’t give much else in it’s form of entertainment. The film is slowly paced and asks you to come to your own conclusions as it is lacking one of it’s own. While I praise Curran for not taking the easy way out of the film, the path he took will leave most disappointed. For those of you that are like me, the comparative reality of the character choices is reason enough to take a moment to watch this film and leave you wondering who is really evil: the judge or the judged?
I give Stone 3 “Alternate Endings” out of 5
By Ryan Davis