I know many will howl at my giving Stone only two stars, but I had to do it. The few thousand regular readers of this blog know that I will also explain why. It’s important to review this movie now while you can watch it for free on the Roku Channel.
Why Only Two Stars?
Over the past few years, perhaps decade, Ed Norton has been on this art for the sake of art type movie path. Once you get enough success and money you can do that. These are movies with a lot of dialog, conflicting stories that don’t have actual physical conflict and try to explore the human condition. When it works, like it did in Motherless Brooklyn, it’s a five star movie. When it doesn’t it’s just a big air cut followed by hearing the pitch hit the catchers mitt two seconds later.
It is difficult to show a character’s “internal journey” on film or stage. Those journeys always work better on the printed page. Some films resort to voice over so the audience has some idea what is going on. This movie did not do that. If it is re-cut with something like that added you might be able to fix the movie.
Confusion From the Start
The opening starts with this character living in the corn fields watching golf on television. A young family really, with the dad engrossed in golf on television. I grew up out in the corn fields from around the time this movie is set. Never knew anyone “into golf” enough to watch it on television. We only had five televisions stations back then and I don’t remember much golf being on.
Young wife threatens to leave, husband races upstairs, kicks out a screen with a bee buzzing on it, grabs the baby, and threatens to throw the child out the window unless she stays. From there we basically cut to an old Robert De Nero driving a 1980s sedan to work at a prison as some kind of parole officer.
The actor didn’t look/sound enough like the Robert De Nero we know today and I don’t think the wife said the character’s name. At least it wasn’t enunciated well enough for someone streaming on a home television to pick up on it. We were over half way through the movie before I was able to make any connection to that bizarre opening and the De Niro character.
Misdirection Went Too Far
The bulk of the movie focused on De Niro’s character. Yes, we got to see Milla Jovovich topless which made 12 year old me very happy. She plays the wife of Ed Norton’s imprisoned character. Ed’s character pushes her to seduce De Niro’s character. The first two thirds of the film makes much ado about this particular story line. De Niro’s character is about to retire from prison parole officer (whatever) and they lead the audience to believe Ed Norton’s character is going to get him both fired and put in prison for sleeping with his wife.
Too Much Subtlety
In general art for the sake of art films rely on too much subtlety. The buzzing bee in the window at the beginning, the one that gets killed by the window anyway, turns out to be symbolic of De Niro’s character getting cut off from love, human compassion, God, and the world in general. You have to notice that old De Niro’s character no longer watches golf. Instead he is constantly listening to All Voices Under God bible thumping radio station. He and the wife have their own bible study even though De Niro’s character admits to not believing in God.
Some time the following day (or maybe never) you figure out the entire movie was really about Stone (Ed Norton’s character’s street name) finding an esoteric path to God. One the bible thumping radio station disregards.
The acting is amazing. Milla Jovovich portrays the psychotic slut wife who works in a day care awesomely. If that sentence freaks you out, please see above section on subtlety.
De Niro turns in one of the best performances I have ever seen. Given his acting range, that is saying something!
Ed Norton disappears so completely into character you don’t even know it is him on the screen until he starts making his journey towards God. He’s really unrecognizable.
The audience needs some kind of score card or seeing eye dog to figure out what the movie considers important in the journey. Again, I think this could be fixed by a voice over every so often pointing out the internal conflict of one or more characters.
You watch it for free on the Roku Channel and judge for yourself