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The Beguiled

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Beguiled

Early reports promised that The Beguiled would be a top rank film from Director Sofia Coppola who was named this year’s Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. So off I went in happy anticipation that turned quite quickly to disappointment.

It’s 1864. In an old southern Virginia mansion that had served as a girls’ boarding school before the war, a handful of students, a teacher, and their headmistress are stranded because they have no place to go. The movie opens beautifully as a young girl is gathering mushrooms in a forest of majestic trees whose enormous branches shut out the sun. As Amy’s (Oona Laurence) peaceful walk in the woods goes on just a bit too long, we realize in scary anticipation that something is about to happen. It does.

She stumbles across a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and helps him back to her school where headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), rebellious student Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the younger girls discuss what to do about this enemy in their midst. Miss Martha washes and stitches his serious leg wound and all agree they will shelter him until he recovers.

Still afraid of him, they lock the soldier alone in the room and decide to send him on his way as soon as he can walk. By then, the movie is wrapped in stiff formality. With the sounds of war in the distance, and a wounded soldier in their midst, it is almost laughable that teachers and students are dressed immaculately throughout in perfectly ironed long white dresses while they move about with slow formality. As time passes much too slowly forward, sexual attraction surfaces, then erupts. We welcome this last half hour because it punctures the stilted propriety that has enveloped us for an hour.

Sofia Coppola did interesting work here by observing the reactions to the emergency of three women of different ages. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning react according to age but during the first hour they are too much alike, too contained for the audience to get to know them as individuals. We try but can’t succeed in piercing the prohibitive formality. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is credible during the first half only to undergo a character change that, while understandable on one level, is beastly and prolonged on the other.

Director Coppola’s filming is grand as she creates the atmosphere of seven women isolated in the woods during the Civil War. The singing of the young girl who opens and closes the movie is extremely moving. For the first hour, the actors seem trapped in their silence while the whole goes from mild mannered propriety in one crisis to hysteria in the next. Feeling somewhat sad to be going against positive advance word, I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this movie lover’s dilemma. Am I crazy?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Beguiled
Word Count : 491
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2017

 

This review was posted on July 1, 2017, in Drama, Western.

Hell or High Water

The Western Returns

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water snuck quietly into theaters with little fanfare and some of the best acting of this or any year. Don’t miss it. This is a Western that transcends the good guy/bad guy formula with absorbing character portraits. Set in a West Texas town during recession times, stores are closed and farms are being taken by banks for unpaid loans they shouldn’t have made in the first place.

Watch the relationships – between two brothers, between two lawmen, between the head lawman and one brother. Each character is drawn in subtle layers by a uniformly fine group of actors. Director David MacKenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan have wrapped their tale in contemporary violence, but this is far from the old fashioned good guy/bad guy story.

Ex-con Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and his brother Toby (Chris Pine) are trying to save the family farm after their mother dies. To make the payments owed under threat of foreclosure, they rob the banks for just the amount of money they owe, no more. Watch the brothers break the law, one with gusto, the other with reluctance. Their bond is firm, whatever lies ahead.

When one robbery goes wrong, they are chased by Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his Comanche teammate (Gil Birmingham). The aging Marcus and his Indian partner exchange affectionate racist taunts as Marcus quietly makes a plan to outwit the robber brothers.

Understanding the significance of the new oil rigs sprouting everywhere, Toby is determined to hold the farm for his sons. Lawman Marcus is determined to catch the pair before he slides into unwelcome retirement.

The odd part of all this is that we find ourselves rooting for both sides while time and again the movie surprises us with new twists. The relationships that develop among these characters are subtle, unexpected, and very moving. We are wonderfully absorbed because every one of them seems to have grown literally out of the rock solid West Texas soil.

Credit Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine with creating an extraordinary and unexpected connection between the Ranger and the reluctant bank robber brother. Their performances are delivered in an understated display of slow motion beauty. Equally good as the bombastic, con man brother, Ben Foster makes sure we understand the thrill that propels him. Unrepentant, he loves being a bad guy.

Beautiful camera work captures vast country bisected by long ruler-straight roads that roll through flat fields toward the curve of the earth. The barren desolation of the place is overwhelming.

The vast emptiness is spotted here and there with the rusted water tanks and crumbling houses of a plentiful past dotted now with experimental oil drills. But the real draw here is that in an otherwise violent story, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges create characters who move us greatly. And so and at last, the Westerns we used to love are back but with a fine 21st century twist: these cowboys are real people.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Hell or High Water
Word count : 500
Running time : 1:42
Rating : R
Date : August 26, 2016