Thursday, October 21, 2010

'Stone' sinks under weight of its pretensions

Say this: Stone showed me something I haven’t seen before, a movie that's gritty and labored at the same time. With Christian radio frequently droning in the background, Edward Norton and Robert De Niro play a film noir duet as convict and prison case worker. Sporting cornrows, Norton looks and sounds like a wannabe rapper who thinks he has a shot at toppling Eminem from his perch. De Niro – all impacted rage and middle-age bulk – portrays the caseworker who must decide whether Norton’s character – he calls himself Stone – will be paroled from the Michigan prison where he’s spent the last 9 years. Trips to mass don’t seem to have helped DeNiro’s Jack find his spiritual bearings. His downtrodden wife (Frances Conroy) reads the bible and drinks heavily, a coping strategy composed of equal parts alcohol and Catholicism. True to noir demands, Jack is ripe for a fall. Along comes Stone’s sexy wife Lucetta (Mila Jovovich) to provide all the temptation any man (God-fearing or otherwise) needs. For a while, it looks as if director John Curran may pull something powerful together, but the longer Stone goes on, the less credible it becomes. And for all their obvious skills, DeNiro and Norton are bested by the women. Both Jovovich (impossibly sultry) and Conroy (weathered by years of emotional deprivation) are more intriguing than their men, a convict and a prison worker who may be headed in opposite directions. It’s nice to see De Niro try something heavy, but his choice of material leaves something to be desired. Stone ultimately sinks under the weight of philosophical pretensions that don't seem to have been thoroughly worked out.

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