Parole officer Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) has only a few weeks left before retirement and wishes to finish out the cases he's been assigned. One such case is that of Gerald "Stone" Creeson (Edward Norton), a convicted arsonist who is up for parole. Jack is initially reluctant to indulge Stone in the coarse banter he wishes to pursue and feels little sympathy for the prisoner's pleads for an early release. Seeing little hope in convincing Jack himself, Stone arranges for his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to seduce the officer, but motives and intentions steadily blur amidst the passions and buried secrets of the corrupted players in this deadly game of deception. Written by
The Massie Twins
Going to the theater, my expectations of "Stone" were rather typical of any thriller produced nowadays. Reading the (somewhat misleading) synopsis and looking through the cast, I couldn't set my hopes up to anything far beyond "ordinary thriller with a decent cast that probably won't outdo a potentially blunt story".
Keep in mind: this is NOT a thriller, at least in the conventional sense of the word. It's a heavy drama with extremely minimal undertones of suspense.
The basis of the story is quite simple (read the synopsis), but the majority of the film's focus is in its character study. This is where the actors seriously shine. That seems to be the issue with most of the negative responses the film received. Yes, it is slow paced. Yes, there's a lot of religious jargon thrown around. Yes, it is quite the anti-climactic film. But isn't that the point? De Niro, who I haven't seen in anything memorable after Jackie Brown (okay, I'll exclude The Good Shepherd), is marvelous as the underplayed Jack Mabrey. The subtle nuances he gives to a character so burned out of work, marriage -sidenote: Frances Conroy was amazing-, and life in general (the speech he gives at his brother's funeral in the beginning comes to mind) are nothing short of astonishing. I can't stress on how great the performance was, De Niro has definitely gone back on track.
Edward Norton is equally terrific. I could go on and on about his perfect use of mannerisms, facial gestures, and especially the accent to formulate an interesting character. What I found interesting, and fortunately detracted any notions of the film being one-sided religious crap, was the contrast between Jack and Stone's religious beliefs/endeavors; Mabrey, for instance, sitting in the porch with his disturbingly delusional wife, discussing religion and the existence of God, while shunning its very purpose during situations of danger and conflict (the seduction, and another scene towards the end which I won't spoil). Stone, on the other hand, a misguided delinquent with strange views of death, forms an epiphany on the purpose of his existence at a more realistic - another good word is unconstitutional - level during his stay in prison, confusing the hell out of everyone due to his inability of expressing it on a more intellectual basis. This probably makes one very lucky case of ignorance being bliss.
The biggest surprise, however, was Milla Jovovich. I honestly did not see that coming from her at all. Her previous attempt in handling a serious role in ".45" only came off as an attempt, with clunky overacting that I guess can be forgiven due to the frigging horrible writing and direction of that film. But she does extremely well here as Stone's wife, the sexy seductress with a personally agonizing struggle of commitment. With her loyalty to Stone becoming blurred through the sexual encounters with other men and her general flirtatious attitude, it was mesmerizing to see Jovovich pull it off so well. She was simply dynamic in this film.
As the credits started rolling, I could hear many people in the theater ranting about how their time has been wasted. Lots of "what the hell?" came up, too. I'll admit that it came off as a surprise to how it just abruptly ended, but I eventually managed to appreciate the artistic integrity of the film. One reviewer here commented: "Stone is well acted. So what? Do you go to the movies to see good acting class exercises?" I can't put myself to agree with this, the film's got far more that just "acting class exercises". It is a sharply written, well directed film that I plan on watching again.
It sure got me thinking, and that seems to be what many others don't expect anymore.
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