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Stone DVD Review

Stone (2010) movie poster Stone

Theatrical Release: October 8, 2010 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Curran / Writer: Angus MacLachlan

Cast: Robert De Niro (Jack Mabry), Edward Norton (Gerald "Stone" Creeson), Milla Jovovich (Lucetta Creeson), Frances Conroy (Madylyn Mabry), Enver Gjokaj (Young Jack), Pepper Binkley (Young Madylyn), Sandra Love Aldridge (Miss Dickerson), Greg Trzaskoma (Guard Peters), Rachel Loiselle (Candace Mabry), Peter Lewis (Warden Mitch Fisher), Sarab Kamoo (Janice), Dave Hendricks (Pastor)

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Near the end of August 2001, I went to see The Score in theaters. Attending this Frank Oz-directed heist flick felt as much about obligation as interest, because it starred one of the most celebrated actors from three successive generations in Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton. It was around this time I was discovering some of Brando and De Niro's great film work and I knew such a pairing was unlikely to be repeated.

The Score, which wasn't a very good movie, ended up being Brando's last and presumably a step-up from some of his preceding works, like The Island of Dr. Moreau. De Niro and Norton, meanwhile, have continued acting on a regular basis, but few would confidently name much of either's 21st century output as adding to their respective legacies.
Norton had 25th Hour, the slightly less loved turn-of-the-century magician drama The Illusionist, and a preferred but no more commercially viable filming of The Incredible Hulk. Because of his accomplished past and his productive present, it's become easy to pick on De Niro, but alongside his popular blockbuster sequel Meet the Fockers (and its less tolerated follow-up) and a few relentlessly-drubbed, already forgotten duds (Showtime, Godsend, etc.), he's done some respectable things (Everybody's Fine, a supporting turn in Stardust, producing About a Boy).

Nine years and a couple of months after The Score, we got Stone, which reunited De Niro and Norton and, in lieu of Brando (who passed away in 2004), offered actress Milla Jovovich as its third big name. Despite the star power, this $22 million independent drama was treated to a blink-and-miss fall theatrical release by fledgling acquisition-based distributor Overture Films. It came to DVD and Blu-ray last week, just two days after De Niro received the Golden Globes' Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Stone" stars Robert De Niro as prison officer Jack Mabry, who, just days away from retiring, continues to dutifully question convicts seeking parole.

"Stone" is the preferred nickname of Gerald Creeson (Norton), a convict who has been doing hard time for the arson that killed his grandparents. His case is one of the last to be considered by Jack Mabry (De Niro), a veteran parole officer on the verge of retirement. The tattooed and cornrowed Creeson looks and sounds like a criminal and he's quick to assume that Jack isn't interested in him or doing what he can do to expedite his release. Having served eight years of an 11-year sentence, Creeson is itching to get out and return to his wife Lucetta (Jovovich). A regular visitor of her husband, the schoolteacher is also eager for a reunion and promises him she'll do everything she can to help.

What Lucetta does is target Jack, calling his house and politely confronting him at the prison parking lot. Jack doesn't appear to be a pushover. A churchgoing Episcopalian and evidently upstanding professional, Jack's kneejerk reaction is to refer Creeson's wife to the appropriate protocol for parole requests. Quite the temptress, Lucetta persists, and before long she not only has Jack's ear but his entire body, sexually speaking. Wrestling with guilt, compassion, faith, and his own libido, Jack is torn between assisting Creeson with the needed recommendation and shooting down his request as insincere. For his part, the convict professes to religious epiphany, waxing philosophic about reincarnation and hearing God in vibratory sounds.

Edward Norton creates a bold character in Gerald Creeson, a convict's whose peeps call him "Stone" and who must go through Jack Mabry to secure an early prison release.

In the title role, Norton truly chews the scenery, providing a characterization so bold as to require one of two explanations: either he's modeling himself after a real individual (like Christian Bale in his startling transformation for The Fighter) or he's just showing off. You never for a second mistake Stone for nonfiction, which means that Norton simply appears to be trying to remind us how much he can act, a fact that seems to be forgotten as the word "promise" creeps into an assessment of his visibly stalled career.

There is the sense that Norton wishes to impress De Niro, Norton's generation's model for genius acting like Brando was for De Niro's. Norton can't help but show up his elder in their shared conversations, which the script loads in his favor. De Niro must display restraint in portraying a crisis of faith as well as personal and professional fatigue. The legend doesn't seem to have given Jack Mabry too much thought, but his chops are great enough for even a half-assed performance to compel. Acting primarily across from De Niro, third lead Jovovich recognizes her opportunity and works hard to meet the challenge.

Religion is a topic which pervades Stone in unexpected ways. Jack doesn't drive anywhere without listening to a Christian radio show in which a preacher tries to make sense of life. With his older brother just deceased and his own retirement looming, there is an impetus for Jack to try and wrap his head around the big questions, a task that even leads him to consult his pastor.

Stone's wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) is more than trying to seduce Jack Mabry.

Aided by an ominous score evoking a church organ, the film succeeds in building thick suspense. All indications are that director John Curran (who previously helmed Norton's The Painted Veil) and Junebug writer Angus MacLachlan are moving towards a big twist or some kind of grand revelation that will make sense of all the questions raised but sidestepped.
That ends up not being the case, rendering the bulk of Stone a puzzling head-scratcher. Its clues, turns, and seeming misdirects all add up to close to nothing, a destination that is unable to relieve all that tension it has been developing.

That alone may be enough for many viewers to write off Stone as an unsatisfying mystery with no idea how to solve itself. To do that is to overlook the substance and ideas it plays with in its narrow, gripping 100 minutes. Is it enough to create these strong characters and raise giant existential questions around them? I suspect many will think not, a theory that the 5.8 and sinking IMDb user rating supports. Still, I appreciated this movie quite a bit, without ever really liking it. It sets itself up as a manipulation-based psychological thriller and goes off in tangential directions you would not expect of such a thing.

It's frustrating that pieces couldn't fall more satisfyingly into place here because as a De Niro fan, I'm ravenous for a return to the delights he and his film selections regularly provided from 1973 to around 1997. I love Meet the Parents and don't mind him dabbling in that kind of crowd-pleasing comedy, but I see every movie he does hoping that he might find the meaningful, dramatic glory he has long deserved as much as any actor. While Stone might be less of a rebound than Everybody's Fine and What Just Happened, hope lies in the recent announcement that De Niro will reteam with his most frequent and celebrated director Martin Scorsese. Sure, the outline of the project -- The Irishman, an adaptation of a prosecutor's book on a mob hitman who confessed to killing Jimmy Hoffa -- sounds like the two are returning to familiar territory, but I can't think of a more fulfilling director/actor alliance in which to place faith.

Stone (2010) DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Reflective Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture quality is excellent in the 2.40:1 widescreen transfer of Anchor Bay's DVD. It's clean, vibrant, sharp, and presumably faithful to the film's mildly stylized look. Sound design is an important element in the film and it is aptly treated in the disc's fine Dolby 5.1 mix.

Seated on the floor of a prison, Angus MacLachlan discusses the themes of his screenplay in "Behind the Scenes: 'Stone.'" The Mabrys' regular Sunday church service is featured in the DVD's main menu montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Stone is given little in the way of DVD special features. The biggest inclusion is "The Making of Stone" (6:15),
titled onscreen as "Behind the Scenes: Stone". Slick and promotional, with as many clips as cast/crew sound bites and B-roll footage, it plays like an extended preview for the film.

The only other item is the film's full 2-minute theatrical trailer itself, always a welcome feature.

The "Also on DVD" menu provides individual access to six full trailers, for Let Me In, Jack Goes Boating, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Law Abiding Citizen, Brooklyn's Finest, and Righteous Kill. The first two play automatically when the disc is loaded.

The DVD's main menu provides an appropriately muted, atmospheric montage set to the film's haunting score. The static other menus rely on character shots.

Madylyn (Frances Conroy) and Jack (Robert De Niro) have been married over forty years, but I wouldn't use the adverb "happily." On a prison visit, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) admires her husband's (Edward Norton) well-groomed cornrows.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Stone does not leave you satisfied, although it seems to know and take pride in this fact. The methodical, atmospheric character drama holds your attention throughout. It just doesn't ever soar or add up in an enjoyable way. Fans of De Niro, Norton, and Jovovich should still check this out for the acting challenges they face. Just don't expect to come away contented. Anchor Bay's DVD provides a fine presentation of the movie and almost nothing more than that.

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Reviewed January 26, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Overture Films, Mimran Schur Pictures, and 2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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