Thursday, January 27, 2011

The BC Review: Stone

I have been wanting to see the Robert De Niro and Edward Norton psychological thriller, Stone, since opening night some three or four months ago, but until last night, never got the chance. Although not quite as good as I had hoped, Stone leaves a powerful mark on the psyche. That is, for better or worse, it leaves you thinking (never a bad thing in my opinion).

Stone opens with a young couple living in suburbia circa late 1960s, an Italian man with greased hair sits in an armchair sipping Jack Daniels and watching television. His young auburn-haired wife strives to get his attention, but is rebuffed. Fast forward a few moments we see the woman carrying the couple's small child up the stairs to her bedroom, her mother tenderly kissing her before turning to leave. But for some reason the woman stops. Her attention is placed on a small fly caught in the screen of the window. She watches this fly as it furiously flaps its wings, creating a grating buzzing sound, chillingly contrasting with the quiet room and pastoral scene below the child's window.

Unable to save the trapped insect, the woman descends down the stairs. The tension builds. She enters the living room, stops, and addresses her husband. Four simple words come out - "I am leaving you." The man turns, runs up the stairs, grabs his daughter from her bed and holds her out the bedroom window, threatening to drop her. The wife pleads and promises - "I will not leave you."

We are now in present day.

We learn more about the man. His name is Jack. He is life-long prison psychiatrist three months shy of retirement. The woman, his wife Madylyn, appears broken and distant - she has learned to live a life with Jack; not a healthy or loving one, but a life.

Jack (played by Robert De Niro) is the doorway to the outside for his patients. To get 'out there', you must go through him. He's had many patients, some tough, some not so tough, some clearly described as con artists, but it is not until he meets Stone (played by Edward Norton), that he is truly challenged. Stone, a convicted arsonist, believes he has served his time (8 years out of 10-15) has a job lined up on the outside, a record of good behavior in prison, and a loving wife who has been faithfully awaiting his return. Jack has dealt with thousands just like him. Young, cocky, raring to get out. But there is something Jack does not know - Stone is a master manipulator. His one goal, his only goal, to get out, consumes him. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Edward Norton is one of the most authentic actors out there. He does not disappoint as the arsonist, adorned with tattoos on his forearms, corn rows, and piercing eyes. His portrayal of a young man with an unsavory past and not-so-hidden agenda is stirring and reminiscent of his role as a violent white supremacist in American History X. Just listening to this guy carry on in his vaguely southern accent and self-deluded grandeur makes my skin crawl. An excellent performance.

Stone both loves and uses his wife. Perhaps telling of his feelings for her, he likens his wife to an 'alien' stating she does not feel as others feel, she does not act as others act, and most events she treats as simply games. Lucetta (played by Milla Jovovich) is arguably the most interesting character in the film and Milla gives an honest and visceral performance as the strong-willed vixen.

Finally, interwoven throughout this thriller is the presence of God and the Church. It seems to guide the characters along and we experience each struggling to define what God means to him/her. The line between 'good' and 'evil' is blurred and each character makes her/his own way through the use and study of divinity - and often failing to understand its true meaning and place in their lives.

- Jack spends much of the film driving in his car, listening to preachers using radio as a powerful medium. But we see he is beginning to fall apart at the seams, visibly questioning his faith. His wife Madylyn reads every night from the Bible, often asking Jack to finish the blessings. He often loses his place.

- Stone begins to experiment with God as well, only he takes a different angle. The clear bastardization of religion.

- To Lucetta, there is no God.

Stone will leave you questioning and perhaps wanting more.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: C -