Last night I sat in the dark waiting for Edward Norton to pull his fifth and far from final Keyser Soze. That’s what the trailer for Stone told me to expect. In actuality, the script’s characters are far more complex, to the point of being incoherent.
Stone is mostly a thespian sparring match between two proven masters of their craft, occasionally interjected with strong women who amount to little more than being tools for the film’s tone and devices to better develop their male counterparts. Robert De Niro, playing a parole officer who is one week from retirement (yawn), must pass judgment on “Stone” (Norton), an arsonist and probable murderer. Stone aims to manipulate his watchdog by exploiting emotional turmoil, which has been ripe for a spiritual breakdown since long before they meet. This exchange promotes the wife of Stone (Milla Jovovich) to the occupation of meat in a manly sandwich, and the wildcard of the bunch.
The film is irredeemable when the visual and oral presentation fails to provide convalescence to a maddeningly uneventful and unbelievable plot. Sharp and thoughtful dialogue is often out of proper place, pushing verbal hopscotch as the new chess.
The cast, despite this, manages to understand exactly what its purpose would be in a better movie, and uses the opportunity to cut loose in a Hollywood market that rarely does. De Niro gains considerable ground in his battle against career complacency as an actor. An equally understated Norton offers proper treatment for his character (and another appalling accent such as that of Leaves of Grass) that would have been absurd if not for his unsurpassed navigation. Jovovich in spray-on sweat flavor is captured in full predatory sexuality, and Frances Conroy is impressive as the trapped housewife. Unfortunately this assortment, particularly for Conroy, is never backed up by the people behind the scenes. When Allison Janney played a similar role in American Beauty, she was backed, but the edit of this film is ten steps behind.
“Stoney,” for example, comes with three different detachable hairstyles, all in perfect condition, with skin that bathes in milk and is honored by the carefully placed lighting sources of a supposed florescent bulb prison. I won’t cite example, but ham handed metaphors, unprovoked existential dissertations, and redundant soundtracks all make me want to reevaluate my entertainment habit.
Overall Score: 4.65 – Terrible. (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)
If you approach Stone, then how well you can tune out the plot and focus on punch-out performances will determine just how badly you should have stayed away. As captivating as these three actors are, they can’t sell it, which is to say nobody could have.