The Stone Boy (1984)
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All of the actors, especially Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Wilfred Brimley, Frederic Forrest, and Jason Presson (as the twelve-year-old boy who feels responsible for the accidental shooting death of his older brother), are superb. The film has a very genuine feel to it--an understated, quiet, deeply moving story of a family aching with grief. The dialogue is sparse but telling, and the nonverbal acting is outstanding. Sort of like a simpler, rural version of Ordinary People sans psychiatrist but equally impressive family dynamics.
The Stone Boy is well worth the time and emotional energy involved in watching it.
But, what this film does have: an interesting study in how families' deal with grief. How when the language for healing and over-coming tremendous loss leaves us mute, and we rely on raw emotions instead. Grief without reason and patience is anger, even hate. And unfortunately, the lead character (a young boy who accidently shoots and kills his brother while hunting) in the film is given more than his fair share of it. He eventually leaves and moves in with his grandfather (Wilford Brimley) who makes it clear to him that it WAS an accident. I got the impression that this young man knew that in his heart, but needed to hear those words from his parents, and to receive their forgiveness.
What I loved about this film: the lack of dialog. There was a tremendous emphasis on physical reaction, facial expressions. And the slower pace of the film allows you to really watch the reactions of the actors. Something we don't get to do alot of with today's films.
In the early moments of the film, we see two brothers head off in the early morning hours to pick some peas and maybe shoot a duck or two if they're lucky. While climbing through a barbed wire fence, the gun accidentally discharges and the younger boy fatally shoots his older brother. These boys have apparently never taken a hunter safety course. The way for two men to properly go through a fence like this with one gun would be as follows: First man climbs through. Second man then passes him the gun through the fence. The first man then sets the gun down and helps the other through the fence. At no time should either man have his hands on both the gun and the fence.
Anyway, once his brother is killed, 12-yr-old Arnold regresses into his own world. He does not even run for help after his brother is shot. He simply goes ahead and picks the peas and tells his family about the accident later. At no point during the funeral or inquest does Arnold seem to show any regret or sorrow at all. His family seems to shun him. Perhaps they are even angry at him for killing his brother. An ornery uncle played by Frederick Forrest is outwardly upset with Arnold, even though the older brother's death allows him to hit on the kid's girlfriend. Arnold's parents don't seem to understand how to deal with their son. They really don't even try to talk to him. About the only person he can communicate with is his grandfather who is played in typical grandfatherly skill by Wilford Brimley. After a while, Arnold even moves in with the old timer.
Nothing seems to get Arnold to open up until he takes a bizarre road trip to Reno Nevada to inexplicably look up his uncle's ex-wife. Once he meets her, he begins to emerge from his shell after apologizing to her for breaking up her marriage by starting all of the family's turmoil with the accident. From here on, the film becomes a quick study in reconciliation and reawakening.
The acting is hauntingly distant in most cases. Robert Duvall and Glenn Close make the perfect stoic farm parents. Forrest is good, but maybe trying too hard to channel Paul Newman's performance in Hud. The cinematography is exceptional, too. If you like moody pictures about common folk, this one may be for you. Some even may be advised to bring some tissues. 8 of 10 stars.
And speaking of the cinematography, I must single it out as far and above the most stunning aspect of this film. As a photographer who pursues very nearly the exact visual style portrayed in "The Stone Boy", I'm a firm believer in the fact that a great cinematographer can almost single-handedly carry a film. Here, he has a lot of help from an extremely talented cast, and a director who understands perfectly what the story needs. But to have Juan Ruiz Anchía behind the camera makes virtually every scene something of beauty. And you can almost never say that. Most films would never even expect such a thing of you. Scene after scene captures some detail, some little bit of visual magic that takes your breath away.
The director, Christopher Cain, has had a long and interesting career. As far as I can gather, this film is not very representative of it. But, sometimes, to catch a director near the beginnings of his career, before all the big budgets and loss of focus, there's a real subtle magic to be found. Cain steps back in this film, lets things happen with a life of their own, and then ever further. Much like early John Sayles films, characters are given space to breathe, time to talk. Side stories happen because they do, and that's how life is. Cain displays a remarkable, raw, even outright painful understanding of human nature in this film.
The acting ties much of this story together. When people talk, when they exist in this film, they do so as actual people, not held back by the fact that they are playing characters. Gina Berriault's script allows immensely talented and respected actors like Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, and Frederic Forrest to spend time simply existing. Whether the things they have to say are minor or of deep significance, it all comes down with the weight of pure reality.
When you look at the actors involved, or the great soundtrack by James Horner, it seems strange that such a film be very nearly forgotten. Maybe much of what makes "The Stone Boy" what it is was the time period it was made in. There's this 1970s hangover feeling to this picture that reminds me deeply of my own childhood. People talk of the 80s in terms of modern styles and music, but that's not the 80s I lived in or remember. The look of the images, the understated and dark knowing quality of the acting, and the overall result should get under the skin of any person who grew up in or near this era of time in rural North America. I see myself in this. I see how I saw the world. And a film like "The Stone Boy" sees the world for how it truly is.
For more of this feeling, please see:
The Black Stallion (1979), Never Cry Wolf (1983), Tender Mercies (1983), Testament (1983), Places in the Heart (1984), Matewan (1987), High Tide (1987), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), The Secret Garden (1993), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), Wendy and Lucy (2008)
A horrible tragedy strikes a Montana family. They believe they've lost one son, but it turns out they've lost 2. The key is, if they just communicate and face their grief together, they won't end up losing their second son permanently.
But they just can't. Something is blocking this family from sharing their sorrows. Some family retreat into silence and resentment while certain others point fingers of blame (and then go ahead and cheat on their poor pregnant wife by seducing the pretty girlfriend of the deceased...that Andy character truly is a snake!) The only member of the family that isn't threatening Arnold in some way is his Grandpa (Wilford Brimley). Grandpa seems to be able to speak to the boy without judgements or even kid gloves. He seems to know what the child is thinking about even though Arnold isn't saying much these days. It is truly a blessing for the poor kid to have that one someone he can turn to. No one else seems to grasp the fact that Arnold might be in shock, in denial, or that his way of grieving may not be the same style, or at the same speed, as they would expect. It's so easy to judge and to be angry and to feel someone is "made of stone" just because they don't grieve in a way we believe they ought.
The story is very quiet and naturalistic. You're not going to get some spoon-fed narration or some Hollywood feel-good resolution. I was very concerned by the fact that this child was so burdened with guilt that he felt it necessary to hitchhike several hundred miles to apologize to that piggy Andy's wife, for something he should not blame himself for. Arnold may have accidentally killed his brother, but nobody is responsible for the end of that marriage, which apparently was a lousy one anyway, except for the two people in the marriage. It's only dumb luck Arnold didn't get into the car with a pedophile or a murderer.
Robert Duvall and Glenn Close are frustratingly effective as the parents who somehow cannot find it in themselves to communicate with their son, to find out what Arnold is going through. Jason Presson, whom I've not seen anywhere else except for a childhood favorite called EXPLORERS and a creepy ghost story called THE LADY IN WHITE, did an incredible job as Arnold, a great performance from a child actor.
Aside from being somewhat slow at times, THE STONE BOY is an excellent, and very depressing movie.
Jasson Presson steals the show as the title character, in a far superior and more remarkable role than his role in the flawed hit 'Explorers'. Not that there is anything wrong with his performance in the famous 1985 film, it's just that here is another league.
This movie shows very well that not everyone suffers the same way. Each has their own way of suffering. Some act funny but that doesn't mean that they really mean that. In tragic circumstances, it's actually normal to act a little crazy. That's the case of our Arnold, who is seemingly indifferent to the tragedy he unintentionally caused, but in reality is suffering so much that he takes time to really let it out.
Some scenes shouldn't be here. I think the movie takes too long focusing on Arnold's family's own problems when Arnold himself should be the focus. Also, there are a few severe scenes to watch, such as family's discussions and one girl yelling at Arnold and slapping him.