A Beguiling Case of Blue Balls
Review by Aaron Haughton
Sophia Coppola's latest film, The Beguiled, is a slow burning thriller based on Thomas P. Cullinan's novel, originally titled, A Painted Devil. Differing only slightly from the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, it's told from the female perspective, as opposed to the male, and contains several big names, such as Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.
It's really the performances that dominate this period drama. Coppola succeeds in creating the atmosphere the performers need to function; however, it feels as though she's a bit restrained, which is kinda her thing, I suppose -- although, this feels more restrained than usual, like she's holding back, afraid to take too many risks, or any at all. So very unlike her father.
There's not too much to the story, which you can basically ascertain the whole of from the trailer. However, the subtleties brought out through everyone's performances is really what holds attention. The very presence of Farrell's character (corporal John McBurney) causes a noticeable change to the girls seminary. The girls and women begin to dress up in their best attire, stealing jewelry and pulling out fancy pins not wore until last Christmas, sneaking away to give the wounded soldier presents and to talk with him, standing outside the door listening when they can't get in too close. It's very sweet, but the sweetness is just surface. There's possible malintent lurking below all that, but I'll leave that to you to discover.
I was actually surprised that the film contained a few laughs. Maybe it was just the audience I saw the film with, but there were even a few laughs that landed that I know weren't supposed to be comedic -- I'm OK with that, although I'm not sure how Coppola would take it. Despite the few laughs, however, the film doesn't deliver any line as overtly funny as this bit from the 1971 film:
I think The Beguiled is comparable to Coppola's debut film, The Virgin Suicides (minus the suicides, of course), mixed with a blend of ambiguity inherent in Lost In Translation and Somewhere, with the added period drama chops of Marie Antoinette. Aside from Lost In Translation, I think that The Beguiled is Coppola's strongest film to date, but it still feels slightly off in some regards and builds to a finale that won't wholly satiate the masses.
Perhaps if Coppola were a bit more daring and willing to deviate from the original source material and the 1971 film, it would be slightly more interesting, and, dare I say, beguiling. The film still has moments of great tension that are genuinely gripping, but to my dismay, it loses palpability towards the end, which is where it's really needed, fizzling out to where we all expect it to go.
There's little wonder why the reception is so divided by typical moviegoers, but there's still a lot of good things going on in the film that are worthy of a watch and praise -- the performances alone are worthy that. Although, I'd encourage you to wait until it's available for streaming or VOD if you're not intrigued by the film's trailer or this review.
Rating: 3.5 vengeful bitches out of 5.
What did you think? Did the film work for you? Was Coppola restrained, or did she deliver the right amount of force? We want to know. Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!