Jack (Robert De Niro) is a department of corrections supervisor. His job requires him to decide whether a prisoner should be recommended for parole or not. Nearing his retirement, he decides to still see his last round of open cases. This includes “Stone” (Edward Norton). Stone has served eight years for accessory to a horrible crime against his own family. Stone begins to doubt whether Jack will recommend parole, so he hatches a plan. He tells his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to do whatever it takes to seduce and influence Jack. While Lucetta attempts to use her considerable appeal to help her husband, Stone starts to have a spiritual rebirth. This all starts after he witnesses a man die up close. So then comes the big question, is Stone faking this, or has he really changed for the better.
The acting is simply superb by it’s three leads. Finally, De Niro actually gives a really good performance again. This is the first thing I have seen him in a while where his acting didn’t seem like it was just motivated by a paycheck. Edward Norton was excellent. At times the script wouldn’t work in his favor, but whatever the lines, Norton had them work in his favor. Milla Jovovich gives the surprise performance here. She has spent a lot of her acting career kill zombies, that her true acting skills have never been on show. Well they are on here. She plays the character’s so well, making her the most riveting femme fatale to hit the screen in some time.
I wish everything else was as good as it’s acting, but it’s not. It may seem like a thriller (especially from the trailer), but it isn’t. It is a slow moving psychological battle between Jack and “Stone”. For this kind of movie you need a good screenwriter, and they got one. Angus McLachlan is a master of dialog. The scenes with De Niro and Norton one on one is where his script shines. They are fantastic, and seem honest. The dialog is not up to that level in all the other scenes though.
John Curran likes dramas, and he knows how to direct them for the most part. In this movie though his directing is lacking. It is slow moving and it never is really sure what to do with itself. Not all of it works. Some plot points are beaten over your head too much, while some are so vague that they don’t do anything for the movie, they are just simply there.
Stone wasn’t made to merely entertain us. It looks at the way we view people’s lives. We look at someone who is highly respected like De Niro’s character and we instantly think that’s a good person. We look at what are deemed as the bad people like Norton’s character and we instantly think that’s a bad person. “Stone” has something to say about that. People aren’t always what they seem to be. In the end, people change. People succumb to temptations. People commit crimes. Who are we to say who is really good and bad? Maybe only “God” or whatever is looking over everything, knows who is actually good or bad. Now, I’m not saying I truly believe everything this movie is saying, but I can’t say I don’t believe anything it’s saying. It’s an interesting movie for sure. It tries to make this matter seem complex, and it somewhat does. The biggest place it doesn’t is the ending. After going on a journey with these characters, it doesn’t real give us a big closer, it just ends. That can work, but here it does not.
“Stone”could have been a straight forward typical crime movie, but it’s not. It takes a different path that we rarely see in a Hollywood movie. It is completely character and dialog driven. The characters that it revolves around are not easy to like as well. The acting helps all of this so much, take out these three great performances and the movie would suffer big time. The acting alone makes this movie worth watching. Like I said, the one on one scenes with De Niro And Jack are great. Those scenes work, and they captivate you. Even though there are a good amount of flaws here, I kept thinking about it long after it was over. If nothing else, it is a fascinating movie.