Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Beguiled

The Beguiled
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Released June 30, 2017 / October 10, 2017 (DVD)

Some directors churn out one film a year or even more frequently than that, and others take their time, waiting years between each project. The latter style tends to allow directors to establish styles and themes that become recognizable each time they make a film. Sofia Coppola is one such director, releasing her sixth feature film nineteen years after her debut. Her Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation” and the dreamlike “Somewhere” are particularly evocative of her unique cinematic touch. Her latest film, released just over three months ago in theaters and now already out on DVD, doesn’t measure up.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a school for girls in Virginia in 1864 with the support of teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst). Only five students remain as the Civil War takes its toll on the country, and things become sufficiently more exciting when Union Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is discovered wounded in the woods by one of the students. As the Confederate army passes by their school repeatedly, the seven women nurse McBurney back to health. As he tries to seduce many of them, he sets his sights on Edwina, while Martha and the others realize that his temper and his need for dominance have no place in their home.

Considering the lavish set decoration and Oscar-winning costume design of the excessive “Marie Antoinette,” it would be fair to assume that Coppola would at least surround her story with dazzling imagery. Unfortunately, much of this film feels terribly ordinary and unspectacular. Its production values are unremarkable, and they do nothing to amplify a surprisingly simple and uncomplex story. There just isn’t all that much here, despite the fact that the novel that serves as this film’s source material was also adapted into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood.

Kidman and Farrell, who also appear together in this fall’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” turn in mildly unengaged performances that feel like they could have been much better given previous turns. Dunst is strong, as is Coppola regular Elle Fanning. Yet no one in this small ensemble proves to be too memorable, and what could have been a rich, gloomy experience of isolation manages to be little more than a less than enthralling movie. The Cannes Film Festival awarded its prestigious Palme d’Or to Coppola for this film, but it’s hard to see why they saw fit to compare this to her other work.


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