Stone (2010)

Stone is such a strange movie. I’m still unsure of what I think of it or what it was really trying to do. It reads like a play, takes place largely in a prison but isn’t about a crime, and is more interested in dealing with philosophy and religion than it is in establishing a real plot. I can’t remember the last film I’ve seen that’s like this one. I also knew nothing about it going in, and was taken aback by what it featured.

Our main character is a man named Jack (Robert De Niro). He’s a couple of months away from retirement, having worked as a parole officer for decades now. We first meet him as a younger man whose wife is about to leave him. He threatens to kill their child if she does, so she stays. She’s still with him in present day, and is now played by Frances Conroy. Being just months from retirement, Jack has the option to pass on his current jobs to his predecessor. He’s not the kind of man to do that, though, so he continues working. He has his pride.

Enter one of his last cases, a man named Gerald Creeson, nicknamed “Stone.” Gerald is in the prison for being an accessory to murder, and for arson. His grandparents ended up dead, and he lit their house on fire. He later explains to us that the feeling was “awesome,” which doesn’t sound to me like the best way to plead your case, but that’s his business. Gerald wants out of the prison, having served the majority of his sentence, and Jack — he wants something, although I’m really unsure of what.

A lot of the film takes place in one room and features the dialectic between Jack and Gerald. It eventually spreads to not just being about Gerald’s crime and his possible release, but different religions, philosophies, beliefs about life, Jack’s past, Gerald’s future, and so on. Things you would never expect a prisoner to talk or even think about are brought up, and you realize that these characters are far deeper than you initially thought.

Gerald walks into the room with a bad attitude and cornrows (because anyone with cornrows is not to be messed with), and you judge him because of his first impressions. We learn a ton about his personality as the film progresses. The same goes for Jack. Even though we saw his threat in the film’s opening scene, he seems to have it all together and is the “good” character. Things might not necessarily be as they first seem in regards to both characters, and you’ll have to watch the film and make judgments about them for yourself.

The only other major character is Gerald’s wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich). Despite Gerald being imprisoned for almost a decade now, she hasn’t left him, although we see that she cheats on him at times. She ends up meeting up with Jack in what we think will be an attempt to persuade him to write in his report that he thinks Gerald is rehabilitated. Maybe she does it for another reason. Again, you’ll have to make your own judgments if you choose to watch Stone.

I mentioned that Stone felt like a play. That makes sense, as it was originally written to be one. I can only imagine what it would be like to watch the conversations between Gerald and Jack in a theater without any fancy editing techniques to interrupt the tension. The film tries to create this tension, but it’s less successful than if it were to have been done without any interruptions. Cutting disrupts the flow of these conversations, and even some of the camera techniques distracted me from the two actors.

What was possibly more entertaining than watching the characters duke it out was seeing the two lead actors try to defeat one another in a war of words. They’re both great in this film, and both of them disappear into their characters for large portions of the film. You understand the inner conflict, and you see them undergo the changes as the film progresses. They communicate that to us so efficiently and effortlessly. Norton was even scary for part of the film, and you wonder if his character could snap and attack Jack at any moment. Both actors were fully engrossed, and if there’s a reason that Stone succeeds, this is it.

Mostly, the film is just plain weird. The plot doesn’t get any more interesting than what I’ve just laid out for you, not a whole lot actually happens, and the discussions about philosophy, religion, etc. If you’re in to discovering things about characters almost solely through dialogue, and you love listening to characters talk about things that even they don’t truly understand, then Stone is probably going to be right up your alley. If you want a film with a well laid-out plot and a screenplay that allows things to happen and excite you, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Stone might take place primarily in a prison, but this is no crime film.

Stone is such an odd film. Did I really like it? Not really. Do I think it’s a film for the masses? Also a “no.” But it has a target group in mind, even if the advertisements don’t tell you that. It’s for those of you who want a character drama driven by conversations primarily about morality, philosophy and religion. It has great acting, but it lacks tension because of cinematic techniques that make it, well, a motion picture. It would have worked better as a play, especially since that’s what it was written to be. It’s certainly not a bad film, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

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