The Beguiled (2017) FILM REVIEW
THE BEGUILED (2017)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard
Rated R for some sexuality
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
***1/2 out of *****
Photo: Focus Features
The women at a girls' school fall under a Union soldier's spell in Sofia Coppola's THE BEGUILED.
In less than twenty years writer-director Sofia Coppola has established herself as one of Hollywood's most influential and compelling auteurs. Breaking onto the scene with her debut film THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, she followed her auspicious arrival with films like SOMEWHERE, MARIE ANTOINETTE and, my personal favorite, LOST IN TRANSLATION; for which she won an Academy Award for her original screenplay and was nominated for best director. Never flashy or showy in her execution, she allows the characters to draw you into the story and breathes life into them with her words and the performances she draws from her actors. Coppola is known for her original works as well as her adaptations but to date has never tackled a remake. Her latest film, THE BEGUILED, does serve as a remake of the 1971 film of the same name but is primarily a new take on the Thomas P. Cullinan novel upon which both films are based. Again, she proves her abilities as a storyteller by taking the familiar and giving viewers a fresh perspective.
The 1971 film, directed by Don Siegel, starred Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. In the film, during the Civil War an injured Union soldier finds refuge at a Virginia girls' school. As he grows stronger he begins to bond with the women and soon they begin to turn on each other as they each fall under his spell. At the time it certainly was a departure to see Eastwood in a role that was both vulnerable and lascivious. The film was very much from his perspective and it was certainly shocking to see events unfold. Coppola has taken the material and now the film is told from the women's perspective.
Colin Farrell stars as Corporal John McBurney, the Union soldier whose wounds are tended to by the women at the girls' school. Farrell is at once charming when need be and convincingly volatile when pushed. Unlike the '71 film he is clearly the villain as one's suspicions of his ulterior motives arise and it's not long before he begins to behave like most men presumably would in such a situation. This certainly was not the vibe one felt when watching Eastwood in the same role. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard star as the women who care for McBurney. You have young Amy, played by Laurence, who nurtures an innocent friendship. Then there's Edwina, played by Dunst, a woman who longs to escape from this drab existence. Alicia, played by Fanning, is a burgeoning young women getting in touch with her own feelings and desires. Finally, you have Miss Martha, played by Kidman, who serves as the headmistress but clearly appreciates having a man around the house. All of the women are very good in their roles and do a fine job of conveying their feelings and thoughts without flat outing saying them.
Coppola's take explores how each woman and young girl relate to McBurney and how his presence affects them. In doing so she doesn't resort to verbal exposition to make it clear to the viewer. Motives and intentions are laid bare but at times they appear intentionally muddled to provide a very realistic grey area for each character. You can see with your own eyes what's going on and Coppola respects the viewer enough to know she doesn't need to hold their hand through it all. At a mere 93 minutes, Coppola doesn't allow the film to be bogged down with superfluous or meandering plot points. She cuts right to the crux of the story and never diverts from it. She remains true to the source material even though she's changed the perspective. The only drawback would be that as a remake, and if you're familiar with the original, it lacks a certain level of suspense or shock value. While I certainly prefer Coppola's version, I can only imagine it would have had a more visceral impact had I seen it first.
Coppola utilizes a tight frame, using a 1.66 aspect ratio, to give the film a feeling of claustrophobia. Director of photography Philippe Le Sourd uses what appears to be natural lighting throughout the film. In many scenes, especially at night, it really adds to the claustrophobic feel of the film. The lighting for exterior scenes also undergo a noticeable change as the film progresses from a more welcoming and bright appearance to a decidedly pallor complexion.
The story of Cullinan's southern gothic novel is certainly a compelling one. From it Sofia Coppola has fashioned an engrossing story about the most basic of human instincts, sex and survival. By providing the women in the story a voice she has created the most accessible cinematic version of the tale. Even though the end results are the same it actually has more of an impact in the 2017 adaptation. Haunting and at times eloquent the new version of THE BEGUILED again shows that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal