Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: "The Beguiled" (2017)

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Director: Sofia Coppola
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

In Civil War-era Virginia, a group of young women at a boarding school find and nurse an injured Union soldier back to health. His presence and charm, however, cause tension and jealousy among the women.

"The Beguiled" is written and directed by Sofia Coppola, who is known for films like "The Virgin Suicides" and "Lost in Translation." It is an adaption of the novel "A Painted Devil" by Thomas P. Cullinan, which was previously adapted into a film also called "The Beguiled" starring Clint Eastwood from the 1970's. This version stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, and Addison Riecke, who make up the students and teachers at a girls boarding school in the Confederate state of Virginia three years into the Civil War. Joining them is Colin Farrell, who plays injured Union soldier Corporal John McBurney, who the women take in in order to nurse him back to health. John is very charming, and the girls and women who live in the boarding school try their best to impress him the second he hobbles through the door. They give him little gifts, they come into his room and talk with him even though they aren't allowed, they wear lavish jewelry and fancy dresses to impress him, etc. John does not rebuff these advances, and in fact, relishes in the attention. He openly and outwardly flirts with a couple of the women, wooing them by asking about their hopes and dreams in an attempt to gain favor with them. This leads to drama, in-fighting, and jealousy inside the house.

When we saw the trailer for "The Beguiled," we got really excited for it. It was cut in a way that gave it a "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" revenge thriller feel. We hadn't seen the original film (we purposefully avoided it in order to come into this version with no preconceived notions) and we hadn't read the book, so we knew nothing of the source materials. We are a little bewildered that this movie is not as the studio sold it to be.

For the most part, it winds up being a bit of a stodgy dramatic period piece/Civil War western where several women fawn over a man who has fallen into their laps. There are some tense moments later on in its run time, but we feel like most of the tension stems from an overreaction to an accident that occurs during an argument rather than genuine malice. Dunst's Edwina Morrow wants to be taken far away from the boarding house, Fanning's Alicia finds herself bored with her monotonous studies and wants to shake things up by flirting with McBurney, and Kidman's Miss Martha Farnsworth won't admit it, but could use a helping hand around the house since she's has been doing everything herself for God knows how long. Are these ladies beguiled by Firth, is he compelling them to fight amongst themselves for his affections, or do they see him as the way out of their individual situations? Luckily, the picture is excellently acted. Every single person in this picture is cast perfectly, from the innocent Amy, played by Laurence, to the coquettish Alicia, played by Fanning. Kidman, Dunst, and Farrell dominate the screen with their commanding portrayals. The costumes are extremely well made and look appropriate for their time, and the entire film is beautiful, hauntingly shot by Sofia Coppola.

Though anchored by four tremendous performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, and Elle Fanning, "The Beguiled" winds up being a movie that's better looking than anything else, which may have been the opposite of what it intended to do. The story leaves a lot to be desired despite the occasional fantastic line of biting dialogue. It's only sporadically intriguing, and most of the engaging parts happen as the film winds down. BigJ found himself fighting off yawns for much of the first two acts, and while I was invested in the movie the whole way through, I will admit, there's a little too much "waiting for the other shoe to drop" for my liking. There's probably something to be said about how preconceived notions affect our judgment, and in turn, our actions, but it sadly isn't explored in the most entertaining fashion.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~77%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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