STONE Review

"Stone" has a lot of ideas floating around in its head. It is essentially a small film, in scope only focusing on the relationships of four people. These relationships have always been strained, this is obvious from the opening sequence and the fact our other lead protagonist has been imprisoned for eight years. When these strained relations converge is where this film picks up and how they not only effect each other, but what they ultimately learn from and come to realize about life seems to be the message director John Curran was trying to get across in his very precisely shot, but slightly slow-paced film.

The two lead performances though rise above what the script decides is not the best route to go for the story. Where there is no clear resolution, no real epiphany that makes clear the struggles our characters have been dealing with, there is Mr. DeNiro and Mr. Norton, who for most of their time on screen are talking back and forth with one another, discussing not only Stone Creeson's (Norton) reasons for being in prison and why he deserves to be given a second chance, but why they have both come to these points in their lives. Norton completely embodies any character he takes on and as the corn-rowed, slang spitting Stone he is completely believable. From the first time we glimpse him on screen we don't necessarily see what might make him different than any other prisoner, yet as his story slowly unfolds we see Norton's magic work, we see him peeling back the layers and revealing a man who has much more going on in his mind then he will ever let on. His transformation from the man we first meet to the character at the end of the film is the real highlight of the movie, and if there was no other reason to see it, I would recommend it for Norton's performance alone.

Though DeNiro is playing a curmudgeonly old man who has grown tired of his life, his wife, his faith and his routine, we see a new spark of a man that has not been seen in his performances for a while. As great as he was in last years under-rated "Everybody's Fine" playing a sweet, humble family man, here he plays the complete opposite and he does so with much ferocity. We don't like DeNiro's Jack. We don't see where he is coming from or where his motivations are sprung from, but where the story lacks, DeNiro's facial expressions lead us to guess at what may have brought him to this point. Simply the way he stares blankly into his partners direction is reason enough to know something isn't right. This all leads to trouble when Stone's wife keeps attempting to contact Jack and his desire for something different gives into the promise of lust with a younger woman. Enter Milla Jovovich, who, up until this point has never really interested me as an actress. She excels here though, turning the at first delicate Lucetta into someone of a crazed loony by the time we reach the climax of the film. She is caught between these two males, trying her best to make one happy, while feeling something that veers closely to fresh with Jack that she doesn't seem to have wholly anticipated. It is an odd section of the film. We understand the reasons this is happening, the motivation for leading us into the thick of this plot and making us wonder how things will turn out, but for all the build-up, there is nothing that makes us feel this strange love triangle was really worth paying attention to.

As Jack's quiet and forgotten wife, Frances Conroy probably gives my favorite performance of the film. It is an almost dialogue free part, which only makes the fact that her handful of scenes are the most impactful even more impressive. As she sits, waiting on her husband to come home or lies in her bed reaching for the man who is no longer there all while inter-cut with the sin that Jack is out basking in bring a tragic and sympathetic tone to this woman. We feel sorry for her, we wonder why she has put up with it and the fact we were given a glimpse of the answer to that question only makes us wish even more that Jack didn't choose to live the way he did. That the religious overtones and the message they hammer home wouldn't remind us of what Jack is trying so hard to do away with. On that note, the film battles with this strong theme of faith. As Stone becomes closer with his beliefs, Jack strays from them even further. The real message of the film is never given loud and clear though and the overpowering tools used to try and convey it work more against it than for it. We never, as an audience, feel we truly understand what the film is trying to say to us. We have our opinions, but the point is unclear.

"Stone" with everything it is trying to say is at least a strong example of someone trying very hard to make a deep and complex film. On some levels, mainly the acting and the beauty of the photography, the film succeeds. I only wish its themes and ideas would have been made more clearly defined, I was really interested in what it had to say.