(2017) (Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: After two women take in a wounded Union soldier at their all-girls seminary in Virginia during the Civil War, they and their students vie for his attention and affection, all as he manipulates each into thinking they're the one for him.
- It's 1864 and Martha Farnsworth (NICOLE KIDMAN) and Edwina Dabney (KIRSTEN DUNST) run a small seminary in war-torn Virginia. Despite the battles raging not that far away that's yet to affect the stately mansion where they live and teach the girls, they've managed to keep their young charges relatively unscathed by the Civil War.
That is, until young Amy (OONA LAURENCE) comes across Union soldier Corporal John McBurney (COLIN FARRELL) lying wounded in the woods. Knowing she morally can't leave him there despite being the enemy, she helps get him back to the seminary where Martha immediately tends to his wounds, all while the other girls -- including Alicia (ELLE FANNING), Jane (ANGOURIE RICE), Marie (ADDISON RIECKE) and Emily (EMMA HOWARD) -- aren't sure what to make of this stranger in their midst.
Martha's plan is to give him time to heal and then go away on his own or perhaps hand him over to Confederate forces that occasionally drop in. But as time passes by, she, Edwina, teenager Alicia and the rest of the younger girls all find themselves drawn to the man, some of them romantically/sexually, all while he behaves in a way that makes them individually feel special. But when he favors one over another and is caught doing so, he must contend with the repercussions of such behavior.
- OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
- While it's been well-documented, I still find it hard to believe that abduction victims end up behaving under the parameters of the Stockholm Syndrome. If you're not familiar with that, it's named after a 1970s era bank robbery and abduction in -- yes, you guessed it -- Stockholm, Sweden where those taken hostage during the crime ultimately bonded with their captors, resisted rescue and refused to testify against the perps.
I can see the aggressor falling for their victim in either a dominance-based way or some sort of twisted fantasy romance, but it defies logic such admiration or even love could eventually blossom in the other direction. Of course, that hasn't stopped Hollywood from playing off that notion, with maybe the most famous (and greatest fantasy based) offering being "Beauty and the Beast."
The latest version, albeit with a twist of sorts, is "The Beguiled." It's the latest film from Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford, and director of "Lost in Translation") who's remade the 1971 film of the same name (starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page) that was based on Thomas Cullinan's novel of the same name. I haven't read that or seen the original film, but from what I've heard, this version keeps the same premise but tones down the lurid melodrama while applying a bit of a modern feminist touch, all while keeping things firmly planted in Virginia during the Civil War.
It's then and there that a young girl (Oona Laurence) comes across a wounded Confederate soldier (Colin Farrell) in the woods. Despite him being the enemy and behaving from a moral standpoint, she takes him back to the seminary where she lives with a small number of other girls of varying ages who are under the tutelage of two adult women.
The oldest, Martha (Nicole Kidman), immediately sets out to deal with the man's wounds (also operating from her similar high moral standpoint). But as she later sponge-bathes the unconscious man and gets down to his hip area, something is aroused in her that clashes a bit with her otherwise strict Christian demeanor.
She's not alone in being awakened, however, as the other adult (Kirsten Dunst) also finds herself attracted to the handsome stranger, much like the oldest girl, teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning) who's the most blatant in her flirtatious ways. The rest of the girls (played by the likes of Angourie Rice, Emma Howard and Addison Riecke) are also enticed, some in a puppy love sort of way while the youngest are likely just excited by the change of pace in their lives and the mystery and perhaps danger the man represents and presents.
In turn, and for reasons likely symbolized by the fact that he's just a hired Irish mercenary fighting for the Union, he separately gives the various ladies and girls what they're looking for. All of which means plenty of manipulation, jealousy and such begin to emerge and envelope all involved.
It certainly sounds enticing in a Gothic antebellum sort of way, and Coppola and her crew -- including cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, costume designer Stacey Battat and production designer Anne Ross -- certainly capture the look and feel of the era, all of which helps play into the aura of the premise. Yet, despite all of that and the built-in potential for intrigue, scheming, lust and so on, the film is -- well -- just okay in turning all of that into something worth seeing.
Coppola -- who also penned this screenplay adaptation of Cullinan's work -- starts things off decently enough as we see the various females' responses to having this stranger in their midst, with the contradiction being he's the enemy yet so gosh darn handsome, charming and eventually attentive to what each woman and girl needs in their lives.
And while the potential for the drama, longings and -- yes, so-called cat fighting -- does intensify as all involved move through the film's 90-some minutes, things never truly come to a boil. Yes, there's a major turning point in the film, but even that, the moments leading up to it and the aftermath never really escape simmer temperatures. As a result, you're thankful everything looks pretty because the plot mechanisms eventually become somewhat boring.
I have no idea if the book or original movie suffer from the same malady, but by the time the end credits start rolling, you'll realize "The Beguiled" hasn't done its best job of beguiling you. It rates as a 5 out of 10.
Reviewed May 31, 2017 / Posted June 30, 2017
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