Starring Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich and Robert De Niro, Stone is the latest John Curran movie. Unlike The Painted Veil, the last movie directed by Curran, the plot of Stone isn’t based upon a novel by one of the finest writers in America.The story of the movie is rather ordinary; however the excellent direction and acting make all the difference.
Robert De Niro plays the role of Jack, a parole officer who is nearing retirement. He is left with a few unfinished cases to clear, and he has a pretty complex backstory: his wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy) tried to leave him a long time ago but he threatened to kill their daughter to save the illusion of their marriage. Stone, an arsonist who has served eight years and is ready to get out, is played by Edward Norton. He asks his beautiful wife Lucetta (Mila Jovovich) to seduce Jack and then encourage him to be merciful towards Stone.
The themes of deception, passion and betrayal in the movie encourage you to ask deeper questions about human existence. This is not just a movie about three corrupt people; it is a movie about what TS Eliot would call ‘the hollow men’ — people who are so shallow that they don’t have any shred of morality left. To further highlight this point we are shown the spiritual ‘rebirth’ of Stone when he reads about a religion called Zukangor (a real religion given a fake name in the film). Stone, who found life unbearable and indulged in suicidal thoughts often, finds peace with his discovery of the spirituality. Later on, we are shown how Stone would bend religion to suit his whims as he did with his wife. Jack, on the other hand, is not satisfied with Christianity despite the fact that he regularly goes to church with his wife. His religion is a sham just like his marriage.
Lucetta and Madylyn, the two important female characters in the movie, are rather servile and unimpressive. They present two reductive visions of ‘universal’ women: an ensnaring femme fatale who is sexually desirable but dangerous and a docile housewife who is subservient to her husband.
Mila Jovovich is certainly not at her best in this movie. Edward Norton has the most interesting and dynamic character but his acting could have been better. However, fortunately for Robert De Niro who has disappointed viewers with his sappy emotional dramas and average movies lately, this movie can be a reminder of how brilliant an actor he is. Overall, the acting is worth seeing,
The ending of the movie can be disappointing because it leaves everything unresolved. However, that’s the real beauty of the story. The inability to emotionally settle down and doubts about reality are what brings the movie closer to real life. Whether happy or sad, an ending is a reward that is not the fate of these corrupt characters. The viewers might find it unsettling but that is the real message of the story and reality can be stranger than fiction sometimes. The title of the movie can be taken as an allusion to Sisyphus’s stone. Absurd as it might sound, we are condemned to live this life.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.
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