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Flame With Anger

Stone (2010)

Ron Batzdorff/Overture Films

A cry of wounded, existential despair set against the backdrop of a bleak Michigan prison town, John Curran’s “Stone” explores nothing short of the disintegration of a soul. The metaphysical, religiously tinged Bergmanesque narrative comes disguised in a standard Hollywood inspirational drama sheen, but let there be no doubt of this: The picture is darker, more brazen in its ambiguity and less afraid of experimenting with downbeat sensations than you’d expect of a movie starring such top talent as Robert De Niro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich.

Don’t let that be misconstrued as anything less than a wholehearted recommendation. Rather, Mr. Curran’s willingness to take his story to such a dark, introspective place should be celebrated. The filmmaker refuses to pander to his audience, to simplify the complex storm of emotions that comprise human existence. In so doing, alternately infusing the film with the discordant sounds of a radio preacher ranting about hellfire and the haunting silence of a man at war with himself, Mr. Curran offers an affecting portrait of a world gone awry, with morality thrown into question and conventions torn apart.

Mr. De Niro plays Jack, a parole officer speeding toward retirement. One of the last cases — the cornrow-sporting, fast-talking, anxiety-ridden Stone (Mr. Norton) — presents a monumental hurdle when the convict — to secure an early release — talks his sexy wife Lucetta (Ms. Jovovich) into seducing Jack. What follows is an unsettling, meditative journey through religious awakening, gross sin and the fraying conscience of an ordinary man struggling with the knowledge that his life is built on barely suppressed lies.

A mood piece rather than the straightforward thriller its ads seem to promise, “Stone” turns on the ease with which Mr. Curran presents this strange, unsettling world. The sights — from the brutal, sudden squashing of a fly to the horrific stabbing death of an inmate — and the jarring sounds reveal a milieu robbed of hope, bereft of the joy of living. It’s a quiet hell, a place of submerged feelings and the profound pain of repressed truths, revealed in its star’s pensive eyes and hulking, withdrawn physicality.

Observing a distinguished, composed man fall apart could hardly be confused for escapist entertainment. But Jack’s mental breakdown spurred by Stone’s fickle harangues illuminates and draws out the hidden pain that’s eaten away at his wasted life, spent with a wife (Francis Conroy) he has trouble loving, paying lip service at church each week without believing in the gospel and going through the motions with prospective parolees who just wind up back behind bars. In that vein, the grim “Stone” ends on a note of hope: Jack’s felt nothing, gone nowhere and now in his twilight years hit bottom so that he might be reborn.


Opens on Oct. 8 in the United States.

Directed by John Curran; written by Angus MacLachlan; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Alexandre de Franceschi; production design by Tim Grimes; costumes by Victoria Farrell; produced by Jordan Schur, David J. Mimran and Holly Wiersma; released by Overture Films. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Robert De Niro (Jack Mabry), Edward Norton (Stone), Milla Jovovich (Lucetta) and Frances Conroy (Madylyn).


I agree with most of what you said in this review, but I think you miss one important point which is Malbry's disintegration is provoked by Stone's psychological need to have him believe him and literally 'parole' him. He even enlists his wife to further this psychological need, and this is not a tactical step, it could only backfire in reality. It is driven by the need of both these characters to get Jack to respond to them. This aspect of the story is a precise relational drama. Jack unravels because he cannot help but respond to them, thereby having to question his professional persona, his safe superiority, his cynicism, and his lack of 'faith'.

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