Stone: Review. By Robert Andrews.
In a sobering tale of resentment and regret, the story of Stone follows parole officer, Jack (Robert De Niro), who finds himself embroiled in a case that threatens to expose the futile nature of his own existence. Stone‘s engrossing character-driven story is elevated by a number of captivating performances, with the likes of Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Milla Jovovich portraying a cast of psychologically intriguing characters. Stone‘s absorbing narrative is complemented by an enriching score, which culminates in a poignant viewing experience that has yet to be fully appreciated since its release in 2010.
With his retirement fast approaching, Jack’s final parole case sees him cross swords with convicted arsonist, Stone (Edward Norton), a man whose desperation to be released knows no bounds. Unwilling to leave his fate in the hands of a parole officer, Stone takes the drastic measure of unleashing his lover (Milla Jovovich) on Jack, who sets out on a path of manipulation and seduction to secure her lover’s freedom. Having previously collaborated in 2001’s crime drama, The Score, Norton and De Niro once again build a relationship brimming with distrust and resentment, and it is the latter’s performance that proves the most fascinating and deeply moving.
De Niro has been widely recognized for his portrayal of characters with an immeasurable amount of self-assurance and control, the likes of which include, Sam Rothstein (Casino), Jimmy Conway (Goodfellas), and Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). In Stone, De Niro breaks type in his portrayal of a broken man who barely manages to uphold the facade of his own life, which culminates in one of his best and certainly most underrated performances to date. From the moment we set eyes on Jack, his insecurities are laid bare to the audience, as he threatens to throw his own child out the window once his wife threatens to leave him. His marriage is an everlasting facade, as he and Madylyn (Frances Conroy) are barely capable of engaging in conversation, even during rare moments of bonding over bible verses. As Jack and Stone clash
over ideological values during their parole meetings, Jack finds himself becoming acutely aware of his own shortcomings, setting a gradual and powerful downward spiral in motion.
Jack’s actions over the course of the film should render him utterly dislikable, but in light of De Niro’s performance, we instead grow to pity this empty shell of a man. De Niro is a master at portraying boiling tension within a character, a tension that eventually bubbles to the surface in a powerful release of pent-up rage. Such moments in Stone prove entirely captivating, with these raw outbursts coinciding with Jack’s manipulation at the hands of both Stone and Lucetta. Milla Jovovich’s performance is a far cry from her mainstream exploits in the Resident Evil franchise, whose manipulative nature is concealed beneath an innocent and giddy personality, that lures Jack into a false sense of security. Lucetta’s unhinged personality combined with Stone’s desperate journey of spiritualization makes for a complex antagonistic duo, whose own character journeys drive the story forward as much as Jack’s internal shortcomings.
The rising tension in the story is complemented by a captivating and unsettling score, the likes of which feels reminiscent of a Terrence Malick work. The disjointed and fading instrumentals serve to magnify the inner turmoil beneath the surface of each character, with the accompanying use of cinematography often embodying arthouse qualities. These components certainly feed into the core themes of the film, not least the exploration of religious values and meditation techniques, which are appropriately implemented into a story rooted in sin and spirituality. Whilst the deeper meaning of these themes can prove difficult to decipher at times, they certainly provide viewers with ample opportunity to reassess their narrative relevance in future sittings.
The pacing of the story is reminiscent of a ticking time bomb, as Jack is slowly but surely worn down by the collaborative and manipulative efforts of Stone and Lucetta. This simmering tension leads towards a sobering story conclusion, one that is brimming with several powerful and fulfilling moments. De Niro’s character arc renders his final contributions to the film the most memorable, as he unleashes much of the inner turmoil that has been growing incessantly inside him. Stone‘s concluding moments leave you in a sense of reflective awe, as the simmering tension boils over into a powerful conclusion befitting of the film’s stellar qualities.
It is somewhat perplexing how a film as engrossing and poignant as Stone has been swept under the proverbial rug since its release in 2010, especially in light of De Niro’s captivating lead performance. In a role that has likely been overlooked amongst a stellar portfolio of Oscar nominations, De Niro’s performance in Stone is arguably one of his finest in recent years, with the film deserving of more favorable critical attention than it has garnered since its initial release.
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