31 December 2010

Review: "Stone"

Stone advertises itself as a thriller, but it falls very short of being thrilling. Robert De Niro continues his streak of poor career choices and along, with Little Fockers, many have wondered if this downward trajectory will taint his legacy. This is the same actor that owned the screen in The Godfather, Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). The major problem with Stone is that the screenplay is so poorly conceived that the characters and their choices seem ludicrous. This is the same screenwriter, Angus MacLachlan, who wrote the criminally underrated Junebug (2005). Having said that, De Niro brings nothing to the film and even model-turned-action star Milla Jovovich outclasses him. Edward Norton, who has never quite matched the success of his earlier films (Primal Fear (1996) and American History X (1998)), brings the most energy to the film, but his character is still far too one-dimensional. The only character worthy of any empathy is played by Frances Conroy, and her name is not even on the poster. There is no unity or cohesion to the story. The film has a great opening sequence but is never able to match that energy. There are so many plot holes and a great lack of emotional structure in John Curran's film. Stone does have a somewhat interesting premise but the weak screenplay and uninspired acting make it one of the most forgettable films of 2010.

The film begins with a look at a young couple and their young daughter. The wife announces that she is leaving, fed up with her husband's behaviour. He rushes upstairs to their daughter's bedroom and threatens to throw the child out the window if his wife leaves. This man is Jack Mabry (De Niro) and he is still married to Madylyn (Conroy). Jack is a parole officer nearing retirement and his last assignment is to review the case of Gerald 'Stone' Creeson (Norton). Stone has been in prison for eight years for setting a fire to cover up his grandparents' murder. He is a tough and vulgar man who resents having to talk to Jack about his life. Stone speaks excessively about his wife Lucettta's (Jovovich) sexual appetite. At first Stone is reluctant to give Jack any reason to believe he has reformed and does not seem too interested in early release. Lucetta, with her husband's blessing, attempts to use her sexual prowess to seduce Jack. The two begin an affair and Lucetta starts calling him at home, speaking to Madylyn, and even showing up at his door. Meanwhile, Stone tells Jack that he has found faith, adopting a religion called Zukangor.

There is hardly anything redeeming about Stone. It is one of the least thrilling films I have ever seen. The religious undertones of the script are very forced. Jack is a very religious man and attends his Episcopalian church regularly. Angus MacLachlan's script tries to contrast right and wrong and sin and redemption, but along with John Curran's poor direction and the unimaginative performances, Stone is just a terrible mess. The film's website goes as far as to Milla Jovovich's performance startlingly raw. Unfortunately, she is required to do nothing except use her beauty to seduce an older man. I have never seen Robert De Niro give a weaker performance and it is hard to say whether Edward Norton is giving a great performance or if he just appears strong by comparison. The only element of Stone that I appreciated was the tension between Jack and Madylyn, which was mostly built at the beginning of the film (with performances from Enver Gjokaj and Pepper Binkley). Frances Conroy is such a terrific actress that I yearned for her character to be given more emotional depth. The entire screenplay would have to be reworked and the major roles recast for Stone to even have a chance at being a decent film.

My rating: 1 star out of 4.

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