‘Stone’ review

By Contributing Writer

by: Sean Lechowicz

Marketed as your run-of-the-mill erotic thriller, director John Curran’s “Stone” is an excellent example of subdued fantasy filmmaking. This past decade ushered in the revitalization of the fantasy genre. Landmarks of the genre, like the “Lord Of The Rings” and “Harry Potter” films, predominate audience’s comprehension of what fantasy entails. However, “Donnie Darko” proves the genre isn’t limited to trolls and wizards, but can come about with atmosphere and dialogue. Curran’s film falls into the “Darko” camp of fantastical filmmaking, blending the real with the surreal to create a whimsical, dreamlike representation of reality.

Parole officer Jack Mabrey (Robert De Niro) is only a week away from retirement, when a desperate arsonist Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton) steps into his office. Seeking an early release, Stone persuades his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to seduce Jack as a measure to get him out of the clink. After taking the bait, Jack discovers he may have been manipulated the whole time.

From the first scene, involving a young Jack attempting to kill his grade school daughter in order to keep his wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy) from walking out, we get a sense of the strange universe writer Angus MacLachlan has assembled. A sex scene between Jack and Lucetta is lit in a way that makes the characters look like they are floating in space. Biblical references abound, but never to browbeat the audience—they merely account for why strange events occur. Fire starts on its own, with strong implications the almighty Himself was the igniter.

With such an impressive cast, it comes as no surprise each performance nails the bizarre dialogue, which contributes to making “Stone” feel otherworldly. Norton creates a character with corn-rowed hair and makes first grade grammar feel natural by playing him as a frightened child playing tough.

After decades in the business, De Niro retains his understated intensity that makes Jack come off as a volcano waiting to erupt. Jack is a man who is hired to judge criminals, yet he’s not opposed to pulling out a pistol or throwing his kid out a window when threatened. His scenes between Norton are the backbone of the picture, and they play out the thought of the captor being as amoral as the captive perfectly.

In a film starring reliable greats like Norton and De Niro, action starlet Milla Jovovich outshines them both. Jovovich proves she’s more than just that girl who kills zombies every three years, and what better venue to establish oneself than amongst such decorated talents? Stone constantly refers to Lucetta as an “alien,” as if she’s from another plane of existence. Jovovich gives Lucetta the necessary amount of childlike eagerness and human vulnerability to leave the audience guessing whether she’s from another planet.

The film’s strongest weapon is its fragmented and haunting score, provided by master composer Jon Brion with contributions by Radiohead. Brion and Co. did what every film composer should do: They summed up the entire theme of the film in music. Man’s inherent ugliness and violence shines through and through with just a simple buzzing noise. De Niro’s character can snap at any moment, and the ominous piece of music perfectly externalizes his dark, violent thoughts.

While MacLachlan’s screenplay revels in symbolism and subtlety, Curran goes overboard in a few scenes. Part of what makes this film strong is how organic the strangeness of these characters feel to the environment. Whenever Madylyn (Frances Conroy) is on screen, the same strangeness calls attention to itself. Conroy is essentially playing the same timid oddball she portrayed in “Six Feet Under,” and she feels uninspired and forced. With Madylyn, Curran does the exact opposite of what he does with every other character: He keeps his hand on the trigger. A scene with Madylyn nonchalantly spouting out myriad curse words mid conversation feels like weird for the sake of weird.

“Stone” is a rare example of how a two-hour metaphor on mankind’s faults translates well on film, due to superb directing and acting, along with an airtight screenplay and unconventional musical score. If you’re looking for a straightforward crime thriller, “Stone” will leave you scratching your head. If you’re looking for a surreal existential experience, this flick will suit you perfectly.