Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Running Time: 93 minutes
“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.