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Stone -a Film With Psychological and Spiritual Depth

Stone is a surprisingly complex and thought-provoking film from director John Curran. To describe the plot of this film -a probably sociopathic prison inmate (Edward Norton) schemes with his wife (Milla Jovovich) to manipulate his parole officer (Robert DeNiro) to win early release – makes it sound like a possibly interesting, but predictable crime drama. Yet the longer it goes on, the more nuanced and complicated things get.

Robert DeNiro, of course, specializes in playing unhinged, or about-to-go-unhinged characters, and this is no exception. As Jack Mabry, an unhappily married parole officer about to retire, he listens to provocative religious talk radio on his way to work and has a cynicism, borne of long experience, towards his inmate “clients.” Norton, meanwhile, gives a great performance as Stone, a streetwise career criminal doing a long sentence for arson. When he pressures his beautiful wife Lucetta to contact his parole officer outside, it seems like a fairly straightforward set-up -Lucetta will try to seduce Mabry so they’ll have something on him, and Stone will go free.

Yet mid-way through the film, Stone apparently has a spiritual awakening after reading a prison book that instructs him to repeat a certain mantra. Is this real, or part of his scheme? Much of the film involves conversations between Stone and Mabry. At first, Stone behaves like you might expect a violent convict, barely able to suppress his anger at Mabry having power over him. Yet after his “experience,” his personality is transforms, which only makes Mabry dislike and distrust him all the more.

Meanwhile, Lucetta’s motives are not as clear cut as we first assume. A natural seductress, she doesn’t have much trouble getting to the repressed Stone, but we are soon left wondering whose side, if anyone’s, she’s really on. As for Mabry, it is revealed early on that he has a violent and unstable streak in him, and we’re not sure when he might become unravelled.

There’s a certain ambiguity to Stone that will not please many viewers. Yet I was impressed with the psychological subtlety of it, and how it maintained its integrity by not devolving into a standard Hollywood climax. Highly recommended if you like character based stories that have some psychological, and even spiritual depth.

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