Release Date: October 8, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Stone is being billed as a thriller, which I suppose it technically is, although the net effect of watching the film is not a feeling of excitement or satisfaction at the completion of a mystery but an almost unquantifiable sense of being ill at ease. The story concerns Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro), a parole officer weeks away from retirement and inmate Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton), Mabry’s last assignment. Stone challenges Mabry’s conservative religious views and no-nonsense approach to corrections. Stone enlists the help of devoted wife Lucetta (Milla Jojovich) to get under Mabry’s skin and seduce this seemingly incorruptible man. What follows is a sometimes portentous lesson in forgiveness and redemption that constantly questions the value of pitting faith against deeds.
The film is tonally challenging, sometimes playing like the unintentional comedy of the year. De Niro and Norton are actors so intense it seems at times they are daring the audience to laugh at the absurdity of their characters deep psychological flaws. During the initial interview scenes with Mabry and Stone, we are invited to side with De Niro’s character in mocking, pitying and fearing Stone in equal measure. (With his white boy cornrows and cracked, soft-spoken voice spewing outrageous profanity, this is exactly the impression Norton and director Curran intend.) Only as the film progresses do we come to understand Stone’s calculated manipulation of Mabry. The two men become so alike as the film folds back in on itself–what we laughed at, we’re later reminded of our derision and chided for it. Who, exactly, is the protagonist? Is either character worth rooting for?
The film’s pseudo-psychology and religious overtones may turn off some viewers and indeed, I would have been one of them, had not the screenplay been so humorous and the characterizations so elusive and inscrutable. Stone‘s four leads are perfectly cast. De Niro, who too often these days seems to be sleepwalking through roles, hasn’t projected this powerful a combination of repression and menace since 1997’s Jackie Brown. Norton and Jovovich make a convincing couple, imbuing their characters with an air of slippery danger, each an alluring and irresistible con artist. In perhaps the film’s best performance, Frances Conroy is brilliantly understated as Mabry’s long-suffering wife Madylyn. Conroy conveys decades of coiled resentment and quiet desperation in a single look. While the screenplay often indulges in obvious cues and metaphors (“Let he who is without sin cast the first…” and the old parable about the ripple effect), the film resists predictability because of the actors’ skittish and unexpected performances.
As much as Stone is an actor’s showcase, the real star of the film is its sound design. The score was composed by Jon Brion with input and temp tracks by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. The design combines the incessant sermons Mabry listens to on his local AM radio station and the ambience sounds of nature Stone hones in on during his religious awakening, like the buzzing of bees. Together they craft an all-encompassing soundscape not unlike electronic white noise. The result is an unsettling sense of lingering unease.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): John CurranHolly Wiersma
- Producer(s): Angus MacLachlan
- Screenwriter(s): Robert De Niro (Jack)Edward Norton (Stone)Milla Jovovich (Lucetta)
- Cast: Alexandre de FranceschiMaryse AlbertiTim Grimes
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA