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Review: STONE


STONE , USA , 2010 , MPAA Rating : R for strong sexuality and violence, and pervasive language

There is a tragic irony in STONE. Specifically, that Jack Mabry (Robert de Niro) has spent his professional life listening to convicts as they make their case for parole, and yet, he has never really heard any of them. He thinks he’s wise to the lies they tell in order to be free once again. Freedom, though, as a concept is at the heart of some very sophisticated theology that makes up this literate drama. And, as in all philosophical, as well as theological and poetic constructs, prison bars do not a prison make.

Jack is set to retire, but rather than coasting through his last month, he continues his usual workload, and with it comes the arsonist, Stone (Edward Norton). While Stone gives most of the right answers to Jack’s questions about why he thinks he’s rehabilitated enough to be released, he also volunteers too much information about his wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich). Carnal information about their sex life that Jack puts a stop to almost immediately. Almost. For once, he’s hearing. And it plants exactly the seed in his mind that Stone intended, the which he follows up by having Lucetta contact Jack and propose a meeting outside the confines of Jack’s office to discuss Stone‘s future. Jack resists at first, but Lucetta perseveres with an infectious good nature rather than the overt seduction of a scheming femme fatale. She has no competition from Jack’s wife, Madylyn (Frances Conroy), a ghost of a woman getting through her day with poker, cigarettes, liquor and religion. Years before Jack killed her soul, or, as she summed it up, put it in a dungeon. A remark that Jack actually heard and that drove him to such violence that Madylyn never brought it up again.

The plan works perfectly, even after Stone experiences an unexpected turn of events. While browsing the prison library’s books on religion for reasons that probably have nothing to do with turning towards the spiritual, he peruses the Bible, the Koran, as well as Hindu texts. It’s not until he comes across a religion that is a mixture of all the others, but is like none of them, that something clicks. Zukangor, invented by the film’s writer, Angus MacLachlan, uses a mantra and meditation to achieve harmony with the universe, and teaches reincarnation as the way of purifying the soul. Responsibility is worked out through one or many lifetimes, and the only way to true happiness comes in finding that harmony with the universe. It starts with listening, really listening, and the sound might be a small as the buzz of a bee.

The dynamics of these four people are the compelling backbone of the story. MacLachlan revels in the complexity of these four all moving forward, but not all making progress. He along with director John Curran and Norton conspire magnificently to make Stone both a conniver and a convert, on the road to enlightenment, but not there yet. It makes every move he makes subject to a wealth of questions with no easy answers. Norton’s performance is subtle and intense. The savvy nature of Stone’s instinctive intelligence and his understanding of human nature that gives him almost supernatural powers of manipulating those around him is a hard glint in Norton’s eyes. The eyes give away the exact moment of Stone’s epiphany, watching another inmate being murdered, there is the visible shock of sudden understanding and the pain of compassion for the dying man rolled into one life-defining moment. De Niro, with the less showy role, is nonetheless an equally disconcerting blend of right and wrong with only luck to have kept his character on the right side of the law passing judgment on others.

The script is full of signs and wonders, as a consideration of this type should be. A radio preacher of the fire-and-brimstone variety narrates Jack’s private moments with the condemnation of every human soul as a born sinner coupled with the insistence on free will. When Lucetta offers Jack a peeled egg, she is not Eve tempting Adam with forbidden fruit, she is hewing to the symbolism of the egg that speaks of rebirth, and in Jack‘s case, that‘s questioning his own musty religion that has brought him no consolation over the years. Indeed, Lucetta is the most interesting character in the story. An innocent soul who delights in her body, including sex with her husband or the others who tide her over while he is incarcerated. She is the one person without evil intentions and without malice of any kind. The meshing of purity of motive and animal-like sensuality is a startling, refreshing rebuke to standard Western mores, and provides Jovovich with a career-changing role that she undertakes with a provocatively gentle sweetness.

STONE doesn’t belittle any religion as such, only the ossification that accrues to any organized group, sacred or profane. Even Jack’s pastor tells him to be still and listen, though he is delivering the pat advice of an untested clergyman unable or unwilling recognize the struggle before him. The parallel with Jack’s profession is striking. With an ending as enigmatic as the title character, STONE is the stuff of more than gripping entertainment. It is the parsing of self-imposed sterility that is as easy to shed as it is difficult to recognize.

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Moviegoer Review
Michelle Davids (mic)
Pdinicola (
Disturbing but compelling film! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Stone knew Jack would weaken when it came to the tempting sexual offers from Stone's wife. Powerfullly manipulating film.
homayoun(iran) (
it is great and seems real.
cipherd (
Actually a real religion...Eckankar!
Charlie (
I can't remember the last time I've seen a movie in which the characters were so real. In particular , Edward Norton's character, Stone, was riveting. Di Niroas well as the rest of the cast were so convincing that I felt I was somehow right there watching everything happening live. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I've watched the movie 5 times and that I'm sure I will watch it again? Why can't more movies be of this caliber?
Mr. B (
1. Was it part of the PLAN for Stone's Wife to have Sex with his Parole Officer? 2. Or was that Wifey "Doing what she 'WANTS TO', as Stone so CONVINCINGLY stated to his P.O. regarding her waiting for him in the Parking Lot at the Prison?
Rozanna (
Great flick and great review!
katy (
I just watched STONE on netflix and I agree with your review. It was odd and quirky but the performances were well worth watching. One thing I noticed was that the Zukangor spiritual practice Stone found in a book in the library--something you say the director/writers made up-- seems lifted directly off of Eckankar. Stone was humming the sound "Hu" which is a major part of the Eckankar practice. See this link: Eckankar and Zukangor---sounds alike.
rece (
the movie is intriguing and interesting... i really like the plot
Jabram (
Exceptionally good review. Eloquently written and you got "it". Thanks
Dan (
Good review. Norton shines as always. Great performances all around. Would love to see Norton paired with other actors who could hold their own with him. Gary Oldman for example. Film holds your interest. Surely no walk outs.
Mary-Elizabeth (memepatton@msn.commaddi)
it seems you are one of the few who really get this film... good job .. insightful review.. thanks.. as most of E. NOrton's performances was briliant.
Maria (
To long. To tedious
amilia hudson (
loved the with Edward norton being as good as he always is.the story line is brilliantly directed.this is another Norton's masterpiece. this is one of those movie that make you think and let your brain get fried a little. I loved Edward Norton forever. And guys if you like or dislike this movie I still recomend to watch other Norton's movie.He is simply brilliant....
renee (
Good review good movie
k (
The religion is indeed Eckankar. The director seems to miss the whole idea of Eckankar however. Although there are subtleties in the message of the movie, overall, it is a poorly made movie with a very flimsy premise for publicising this religion very badly.
Tony (
This movie has no plot, it's too vague, it doesn't provide any real depth of characters. What it does very well is looking like a very cool, very sophisticated movie, which is obviously not. It gets nowhere and leaves the audience with a disappointed feeling. Looks like the perfect French movie!
Melodie Chrislock (
The made up religion is not made up. It is the spiritual practice of Eckankar which Paul Twitchell brought to light in 1965.....there's no mistaking it.
Marvin Browne ( )
The review is 'on the bright side'; for balancing I would humbly mention: the extreme emptyness of all the speeches held on the radio: the host is really annoying, while the remarks of the listeners are dull and flat - why is DeNiro's character listening to them, and all the time, and for so long, and with such little positive effect ? Because his Jack's inner emptyness is as huge as the whole Universe. Although she is depicted somehow like a victim of a disturbing behavior of her husband, Madylyn is also a free will, having decided, complacently, to submit herself to sort of masochistic torture by living beside Jack and trying to fill her life with something, strangely associating sinful habits with religion. Is she really a victim ? Maybe, a victim of her sole decision, she made in free will, to keep living at minimum cost, without any attempt to escape or improve. Her claim of believing in something (against the 'non-believing' husband) is pathetic and can only sadden the public. Overall, the lives of all these characters are so empty, so voided of any meaning, that they cannot be filled with any of the 'pulp fiction'-ous literature or radio shows... Yes, it's true, Jovovich is having here a great role. The character, alas, is leading a similar pointless, meaningless existance, and her ingenuity doesn't make her 'better' than the others. The movie is probably not a masterpiece, however it makes you think about yourself, about the meaning of your life, about your decisions, and about responsibility. Which responsibility is what all these characters lack. They all have free will, freedom, choices, but they deny any responsibility and do not refrain from any doubtful or wrong action because they see there's no guilt, no punishment and no restrictions to their wrongdoing. Probably, the best definition of limitless freedom. And choice. Two things worth to think about, especially at the level of a whole society.
Seema (
Very slow movie but has a great point. You must beleave in God and what ever is set in your way is by God himself but you must handle it by Gods rules or you will fail your test.
Cheryl (
Excellent review.

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