Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Coppola's Beguiled a colossal disappointment

Yes, Sophia Coppola won Best Director at Cannes for this second take on author Thomas P. Cullinan's novel A Painted Devil, the first by Don Siegel in 1971 starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. To say the least, it’s a colossal disappointment. I was expecting much more from Coppola than a very pedestrian, low key, flat-lined plot. The story is about the discovery by a group of women and girls of a Yankee soldier Cpl. John McBurney (Colin Farrell), wounded and gone AWOL, during the Civil War. The women are in a mostly abandoned southern plantation housing a girls’ school. Nicole Kidman is the school principal. She dutifully tends McBurney’s wound and cleans him up, almost fainting after touching such a perfect specimen of masculine virility. She and the rest of the eight-person household also fall in love, or infatuation, with their supposed prisoner. They primp, dress-up and flirt. But the corporal really has eyes for only one: teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst). Or so he says. Morrow catches him in bed with Alicia (Elle Fanning) and hell is to pay. She knocks him down the stairs, reopening his wound. Now the leg will have to be amputated. After sedation, he awakens and discovers he's missing a limb. And hell is paid again – this time by McBurney - on the occupants. He, pistol in hand, holds them under, er, house arrest. Until, that is, they come up with a plot to end their captivity. There are many faults to the film though the actors did their best to work with what they were given. The first – and big – problem, is the lack of plot development. More than an hour went by before the first critical juncture, which really got the tension going. But essentially there is only one more act: McBurney’s capture of the women and their revenge. Perhaps this is the original story’s fault (I’d been expecting a played-out series of conflicts, even tortures). But Coppola could have embellished by creating more drama between the various women and McBurney. Instead it’s subdued. Moreover, she could have spun it like she did her 2006 Marie Antoinette, also starring Dunst. There, she used New Wave music over period scenes, an exhilarating juxtaposition. This film is singularity unexciting on many levels.

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