Film Review: “The Beguiled”

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Focus Features

“The Beguiled” should be a haunting historical drama that finds malice, that isn’t war or slavery, during the Civil War but it doesn’t. It feels too safe to be a retelling of a 1971 movie and too by-the-books to be a modernization of a 1966 Southern Gothic novel. As far as I’m aware of there isn’t anything drastically altered or changed that makes the 2017 version of “The Beguiled” stand out from its predecessor other than a new cast and new eye for detail.

During a trot through the rich Southern landscape, with the sounds of war in the background, Amy (Oona Laurence) comes across an injured Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Farrell). Taking pity on the injured man, she helps him back to her home, a Virginia girl’s school. Miss Martha (Kidman) expresses concern about taking in the enemy, as well as some of the more impressionable young girls, but Edwina (Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) are more welcoming.

While not directly dividing the group, it’s the beginning of trouble for the young women and Miss Martha. There are plenty of moments of sexual frustration, passing giggles, and casual flirting through innuendo, which displays the feelings of each woman to McBurney. However, McBurney plays the field, finding ways to manipulate each of the women here and there to get one or two things he needs. The only one privy to his moves is Miss Martha, who struggles with her own temptations.

Despite the dry dialogue, watching McBurney creepily infect and use the women are some of the strongest moments in “The Beguiled,” but even at a brisk 93 minutes there’s a lot of monotony. The immense talent in front of the camera is left to retread plot points or gather together for group talk which devolves into allowing McBurney more freedom to wander the premises. It makes for a frustrating wait time before the exciting climax. But even the ending wastes it’s build-up of tension on predictability.

I’m usually one to defend the necessity of a remake, for bringing classic stories to modern audience, but “The Beguiled” isn’t one of them. I hate sounding like an old fogey, but I have to wonder what fresh take Coppola brought other than HD clarity and her knack for visual presenation. It’s framed wonderfully, explaining more in its establishing and framing shots than it does through any dialogue. While Coppola continues to demonstrate a unique vision behind the camera lense, her writing skills still need a little polishing.

Film Review: “Lion”

Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 18 mins
The Weinstein Company

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

I’ll admit up front that I am a sucker for films that deal with adoption. I was adopted when I was 18-months old. Inspired by the film “Antoine Fisher” I eventually tracked down my birth family, learning that I was originally the middle of 11 children. That’s right – thanks to a movie I found 10 brothers and sisters. So when I learned that adoption plays a large part of the film “Lion,” I was anxious to see it. And I’m so glad I did.

It is the mid 1980’s when we first meet the young boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar in an amazing performance). Saroo idolizes his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). He follows him around and helps him steal coal from the mining trains that pass their small village. They sell the coal for money to help their mother, who works as a laborer carrying rocks! Yes, even in the 80’s people still got paid for carrying rocks. One night, against his better judgement, Guddu agrees to take Saroo with him. The boys get separated and Saroo finds himself on a train taking a journey that takes two days to end. Now alone in the bustling city of Calcutta he must live on the streets. Unable to speak the language (he does not speak Hindi) and unable to find his village featured anywhere on a map, he is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a family in Australia. In the blink of an eye he goes from poverty to wealth and grows into a well-adjusted young man. But he never forgets his past and the family he left behind.

Powerful. That is how I’d best describe “Lion.” In a way I consider myself lucky that I was adopted as a baby. I had no idea the loving family I had been taken from. After meeting my brothers and sisters I learned that I was the family “urban legend.” The oldest child, my brother Anthony, would tell the others that they had a brother “out there” somewhere. When I met Anthony he told me that for quite a while after my birth and subsequent disappearance he would sneak out at night and look for me. My only memories from my youth are of myself and my adoptive parents. To have been age five when I was separated from my family would have been beyond traumatic. Young Mr. Pawar gives an award-worthy performance as the young Saroo. As does Dev Patel, who plays Saroo as a young adult. This is a film made up of moments. Whether it’s Saroo with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), or his adoptive parents (Kidman and David Wenham) or just him alone with his thoughts, each moment builds on the next. Bring your Kleenex!