PLOT: A corrections officer (Robert De Niro) nearing retirement is assigned to review the case of a convicted arsonist, Stone (Edward Norton), whose wife (Milla Jovovich) is willing to go to any lengths to get him a release.
REVIEW: STONE is nowhere near as conventional a film as you'd think given the trailers, which makes this look about as predictable as can be. I knew from the first scene I was in for something different, when we get a flashback to a young De Niro dangling his daughter out a window when his wife threatens to leave him. Obviously, this was not going to be a conventional film.
Sure enough, STONE is different. The director, John Curran, and the writer have obviously tried to shake-up this whole one-on-one psychological thriller genre, with the bad guy- Stone, not being so bad, and the good guy not being so good. One has to give the filmmakers credit for this, even though, as far as I'm concerned, they're not entirely successful.
Both De Niro & Norton have had a rough few years, with neither doing anything particularly memorable. For Norton, his last great film was probably THE 25TH HOUR, and for De Niro, one needs to go back even further. However, both are very good here, and engage in the material. De Niro has a tendency these days to sleepwalk, but there's none of that here. It's not exactly his best work, but it's effective.
As the somewhat ambiguous STONE, Norton is quite good, although this is yet another film where he hides behind an accent, with him adopting a hip hop patois. However, it's appropriate for the character, and Norton's better here than he's been in a while. Stone's a strange guy, but not as evil as the trailer makes him look, and a plot twist where he adopts a strange religious belief becomes important in the second half of the film.
Supporting Norton, and De Niro is Milla Jovovich. This is a good film for her, as it takes her out of the cool action-chick typecasting she's been suffering in recent years (although, perhaps suffering's not the right word as RE:4 just opened at number one). She's good (and frequently naked) in STONE, and proves that's she's still a very capable actress, although at times she her role seems a little too much like the one she played in A PERFECT GETAWAY.
Another key supporting role is filled by Frances Conroy of SIX FEET UNDER, as De Niro's fervently religious, but subtly alcoholic wife. Often in films like this, the wife role would be as two dimensional as you can get, but here Conroy plays someone who's probably the only true victim in the film, with her being bullied into staying in a loveless marriage. In a way, Stone's interference with their lives is her only chance at liberation.
Something else that needs to be mentioned is the sparse, electronic musical score, which the me was one of the best things about the film. Oddly enough, no composer is listed on the IMDB, so the score remains a mystery, but to me it's one of the most valuable aspects of the film.
Now- STONE does fall apart quite a bit in the last thirty minutes or so, as they try to get way too obtuse with the whole idea of destiny that suddenly figures into the plot in the second half. While it's certainly a different way to go, it never really gels, but I respect the effort.
While STONE's maybe not a film you'll want to rush out to once it opens in a few weeks, but if you want to see a somewhat unconventional thriller, this would make a solid rental. That said, I think most people will have far less patience for it than I did, as the buzz after the public screening wasn't great.
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