November 30, 2010 -- “Stone” is a small budget film with some big name acting talent, headlined by Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. It is also unusual in other ways. It is a prison drama that takes on some big questions like: Is there a god? Is there reincarnation? Is there any meaning to human existence? Despite this philosophical approach, the film also builds some real suspense, but it ends in a muddle of half-thought-out ideas.
The film starts out about 40 years ago with a woman deciding to leave her husband. The husband, a real prize, threatens to murder their child unless the wife agrees to stay with him. She agrees to stay. Flash forward to the present day and we find the same couple in a loveless relationship, staying together out of habit. The husband, Jack (De Niro) is a parole evaluator at a prison, while his wife, Madylyn (Frances Conroy of “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising”) is a teacher. They live in a big, comfortable house near Detroit, where the film was shot. Jack goes to church, but mainline Christianity doesn't satisfy his soul.
One day Jack interviews an unusual inmate, Stone, played by Edward Norton (of “The Incredible Hulk”). Stone feels he has done his time for arson and has no plans to repent. Jack finds him interesting and keeps talking to him. Stone arranges for his pretty wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich who stars in the “Resident Evil” series of films) to seduce Jack in hopes of winning his parole. Lucetta is very adept at seduction. Stone has suicidal thoughts and finds prison life unbearable until he happens across a religion called Zukangor (a real religion given a fake name in the film to avoid trademark issues). Stone begins meditation and finds peace in prison. Zukangor gives him a new perspective on his life. Both Jack and Lucetta are threatened by Stone's newfound peace of mind.
Stone is released, but Jack has second thoughts, both about Stone and about his relationship with Lucetta. He is afraid that he has released a very dangerous man. He is soon to find out just how dangerous the newly-enlightened Stone can be. It seems that Stone is able to justify any of his actions with the aid of his new religious belief. This belief embraces reincarnation, meditation and “listening” for the sound of god in everyday situations. The film is bookended by a particular sound, which may or may not have some cosmic significance.
This is a pretty slow-moving film with only a couple of brief action scenes to break up the pace. It is also depressing in that Jack is a guy who has never acknowledged his crime. It is hard to work up any sympathy for him, or any other character in this sad story, except for Madylyn. While the film does have a spiritual component, the spiritual message becomes muddled in the end. The story would have us believe that all spiritual beliefs are built entirely of hypocrisy or are otherwise useless and hollow. This is a major insult to anyone who isn't an atheist or an agnostic. That would not be such a downer if the film was at least entertaining, like “The Cider House Rules” was with a similar kind of spiritual message. This, however, falls far short of that level. This film rates a C.
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