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Friday, December 31, 2010

STONE -- DVD review by porfle


The opening minutes between the fade-in and the "directed by" are a disheartening portrait of a very depressed and troubled man, with a wife who has long since resigned herself to quiet despair, both stuck in an endlessly bleak and unrewarding existence.  Sounds like fun, huh?

Well, STONE (2010) definitely isn't funhouse-fun, but it is a deeply satisfying movie to watch.  First you've got Robert DeNiro as Jack Mabry, a conservative, dutifully religious parole officer on the verge of retirement who has nothing to look forward to besides a meaningless life and a marriage in which he and his wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy) merely endure each other.  Then there's Edward Norton as his final case, an arrogant young convict named Stone who thinks he's paid his debt to society and goes to work trying to convince a dubious Jack. 

If we think we're in for the usual blowhard theatrics with a couple of Oscar-winning alpha-thespians trying to out-act each other across a desk, this movie surprises us by confounding such expectations.  Director John Curran is a skilled visual storyteller who conveys much information through compelling images--verbal exposition is kept to a minimum--and, accordingly, the lead actors express themselves with enough subtlety so that we're allowed to read their thoughts and feelings rather than having them all shouted at us.  This makes the times when they do go off more effective, especially when DeNiro's character loses it.


With Stone's first visit to Jack's office, the naturalistic aura of the film is jarred when Norton starts doing a "performance" full of bluster and prison jive-talk.  But we soon realize that this is Stone performing for Jack.  Later, as they get to know each other, he tones it down and gets more real.  DeNiro, on the other hand, gradually emerges from his guarded cynicism to lash out against Stone when his probing and perceptive questions about guilt and culpability strike too close to home.

While Norton continues to interest us with his more mannered performance, DeNiro fascinates with his barely-repressed emotional turmoil.  Which, needless to say, is stoked when Stone aims his beautiful, sexy wife Lucetta at him.  Lucetta (a seductive Milla Jovovich) soon has Jack wrapped around her legs as he grows more and more addicted to her and fearful of the consequences should their illicit relationship become known.

Stone, meanwhile, experiences a spiritual epiphany after witnessing a murder, and begins to seek ways to expand his consciousness and contemplate the meaning of his life.  But is this new outlook just part of the con to help get him paroled?  Either way, it only serves to exacerbate Jack's own ongoing crisis of the soul which has him questioning the existence of God.  And since we know from the prologue that he's capable of at least one desperate act every thirty years or so--as is Stone--we start to wonder which of them will come unwound first.


While all of this sounds like it could've been a lot of melodramatic hogwash, Curran and scriptwriter Angus MacLachlan, along with their terrific cast, manage to make it all realistic and compelling. Smoothly shot and edited, with an evocative, melancholy musical score that bolsters the emotional flow of the story, the film has the feel of a troubling dream that threatens to turn into a nightmare at any moment.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a brief "making of" featurette and a trailer.

You get the feeling that everything's building toward some shocking and violent finale, but as it goes along you start hoping that it doesn't.  Such an ending might work for a different movie, but simply watching these characters develop is a lot more interesting than that.  In this regard, STONE doesn't disappoint.


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