In a film that can only be descried as life imitating terrible art, John Curran’s “Stone,” set in a Detroit prison, will certainly have an effect on viewers. As an audience member, you’ll feel much like the prisoners: desperate to escape, hopeless beyond all reason and quite possibly come to prefer death over having to experience the pretentious, purposeless and misogynistic “Stone” for a moment longer.
Embattled with insipidness from the first scene, “Stone” opens with a young Robert DeNiro lookalike watching golf, apathetic to his wife Madylyn’s efforts to connect with him. Fed up, she walks up and says to him, in all seriousness, “You keep my soul locked up in a prison,” the first of several lines comprising one of the most dependent, weak and ill-formed female archetypes in recent memory. Regardless of where she ends up, Madylyn exists to be weak and add aspects like character strife in favor of loaded, dull dialogue that’s somehow supposed to court an idea of sympathy.
The film centers on the relationship between DeNiro’s Jack, a retiring parole officer, and a far-too-talented-for-this-film Edward Norton as the titular Stone, looking like a white version of rapper Ludacris, who’s trying to plead his case for freedom. Norton, who last worked with Curran on 2006’s “The Painted Veil,” is jarring at first as the Detroit redneck convict, but somehow avoids the black hole within the rest of “Stone” exists and actually manages to make Stone a pretty interesting guy. The same, however, can’t be said for Stone’s wife, Lucetta.
In “Stone,” writer Angus MacLachlan takes the idea of the underwritten female with Milla Jovovich’s Lucetta, creating a female so vapid, hypersexual and dependent that it borders on offensive. You get the feeling that MacLachlan felt Lucetta was strong because of how she uses her sexuality for personal gain. You realize, though, that this doesn’t make her strong, but a “thing” devised for no other reason than to illustrate women’s dependence on men. Sleeping with half the cast, Lucetta exists to love Stone, to bring down Jack, and to look pretty so that the audience can more easily swallow the idea of her being strong but tortured, instead of realizing she’s just a figment, a concoction of warped male fantasy.
Riddled with the obvious, “Stone” asks about the merits of God, what love can mean and whether a soul can ever change from evil to good, but never gives anything approaching an answer. Instead of reveling on the pseudo-thoughtful, “Stone” should have focused on why its character’s were so thoughtlessly realized.
Save for Norton, “Stone” fails in every conceivable way, ruined by the pretension of its messages and the chauvinism with which Lucetta and Madylyn are construed.
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This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 15, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the director of “Stone.” The film was directed by John Curran, not Robert Curran.