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Robert De Niro, Milla Jovovich, Edward Norton

"Stone" | a film review by Gary Chew
with notes on "Conviction," & Woody Allen's
"You'll Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

John Curran, director of "The Painted Veil," has a new film called "Stone." The picture makes it possible for anyone to exquisitely wallow in great, visceral shifts of power between the main players, as follows...

- Jack (Robert De Niro) uses his professional authority over the imprisoned Stone (Edward Norton)

- Stone's wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), wields power on Jack with her abundance of sexual allure. And to Jack's credit, he doesn't fold immediately.

-Madylyn (Frances Conroy) controls Jack, her husband, because he's desperate to have an obsequious and out-of-the-loop wife at home

-Stone, in an epiphanical paradigm shift, becomes, more powerful than the others.

Then, you get to watch all those power shifts flow back and forth, hop-scotching across, but totally encased in Angus MacLachlan's script, one that may be as raw and honest, concerning interpersonal relationships, as any ever put to film.

Hoping you don't think I'm going overboard about this movie, and having heard it's been said that "Stone" could be a film people will either love or hate, please bear with me.

Jack is a soon-to-be-retired parole officer at an unnamed U.S. prison. Stone, a rough-talking, convicted arsonist, is being counseled by Jack prior to the inmate's upcoming parole. His patter is replete with expletives that are offensive to the officer, raising Jack's embedded authoritarian ire to a boil.

Stone's sensuous wife, Lucetta, is brought up in the conversation, as Stone begins talking about his private life, which motivates him to ask inappropriate questions about Jack's domesticity.

Things look bleak for Stone's parole as Jack determines Stone isn't remorseful for his act that's part of his grandparents being murdered by another man. The convict, thus, puts into play a scheme to finesse his lusty wife---who knows not what fidelity is---to seduce Jack so he's forced to sign-off on Stone's parole.

Deception among humans is as old a story as any, but Curran directs the film in such a forthright, forceful way, with its compelling script and brilliant acting, chances are the time will fly by as you watch it...and which will linger in your head longer than you might think. ("Double Indemnity," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Body Heat," anyone?)

Milla Jovovich Frances Conroy

Milla Jovovich

Frances Conroy

Jack's wife, Madylyn is attached to the narrative in the at-home scenes with her husband so it's clear to see other facets of Jack's personality. Madylyn is more of a spiritual person than Jack, even though he works hard at being one of the faithful. There's lots of religious broadcast chatter on in Jack's car, as well as talk radio call-in shows to underscore the time the story takes place: the recent past.

The libidinous Lucetta, who wouldn't know a scruple if it bit her on one of her buttocks, is devoid of values, and clever as a hot fox, trotting: It's a role any young actress would kill for, probably, and this one might propel Ms. Jovovich to serious stardom. She's just great in this movie, standing out among three other totally great and better-known actors: De Niro, Norton and Conroy. But don't get me wrong---these three are as good as ever. So think on that some, if you will.

What's really fine about "Stone" is its honesty. It has no answers, but as you may well imagine, sure does leave one with a head full of questions. Some filmgoers might find that disconcerting.

There were times watching "Stone" I felt myself harking back to Lester Burnham in "American Beauty," not that these noirish stories are much alike, but that they both present, in a stark, well-defined manner, the same kind of predicament of relationships among people---since there were people.

film strip

Two other films sprang on to my good movie radar this week:

First: "Conviction," with Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo and Clea DuVall: quite a good film with another supreme turn by the double-Oscar'd Swank. It's the taken-from-truth, hard-scrabble account of a sister who does everything she can... to legally spring her brother from the joint for something she knows he didn't do. Always with a cause, Hilary does her lines in a believable sounding New England-speak.

Meanwhile, Woody Allen is back...directing his "You'll Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." And funny it is in that wonderful Allen way that takes to task the sexual foibles of wealthy artists and liberals, who, in many instances, can be so alike. Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas are in the cast with the intrepid Anthony Hopkins. He plays the Allenesque character always on hand with a mature woman on his arm old enough to be his granddaughter. Can you imagine Woody Allen doing a movie about a lothario geezer… stoked on Viagra?

Maestro Allen gives us "Dark Stranger" with all the sound and fury he can get us to laugh at…which, to counter Shakespeare…is something. Then, there's Leon Redbone getting to sing a lot on the soundtrack.

With his cinematographer, that Old Man Allen just keeps rollin' along.

"Stone" official site.

Now playing in select cities.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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