2017 | rated R | starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell ,Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning | directed by Sophia Coppola | 1 hr 33mins |
Studio Pitch: The 1971 Clint Eastwood movie, from the ladies’ perspective.
Beguile – To charm, enchant or trick, sometimes in a deceptive way, someone into doing something.
I keep supporting and anticipating each Sophia Coppola release hoping against draining hope that she will make another Lost in Translation or The Virgin Suicides. I wasn’t expecting her remake of the niche 1971 Don Siegel genre-defying drama/thriller to be thrilling or shocking or tense, but I did expect Coppola-styled mood. I wanted to be wrapped in gothic atmosphere. Instead the film is flat and static, even moreso than the original. Coppola puts the camera down and lines up the actors in the frame. She’s stripped out the more nuanced, dynamic and challenging angles of the original to make a beat-by-beat remake that doesn’t have Siegel’s pop and complexity. It’s a faded copy.
In the Civil War ravaged south, Colin Farrell (still in his “I f**king hate guns” phase) plays a union soldier who winds up injured in the garden of an all-girl’s school run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). While he recovers he wins the attention of several of the girls of various ages, attempting to manipulate them to letting him stay and getting him things, but as the jealousy amongst the women grows, things go from bad to worse for the soldier.
Coppola has pitched the film to us in an odd way, in line with the Hollywood Female Empowerment Narrative of 2017 (which with each new harassment allegation has become more hollow by the day), as taking the original film and presenting it through the prism of the ladies’ perspectives. Except, itt doesn’t do that, mostly because it’s hard to view the original film as being from the male perspective. The movie deliberately throws off the power dynamic by having Eastwood spend the entire movie, crippled and sick in a bed, entirely dependent on a house of women. The changes between the two films are small but add texture and life to the proceedings (like flashbacks to Eastwood’s war time or a wild three-way dream sequence). It presents the situation as a conflict between the sexes, both of which are nuanced in their intentions. Both of which are driven to desperation by the war and having not seen the opposite sex for quite some time.
Coppola hasn’t flipped the perspective here but simply removed one side of it to make a smaller, flatter and more black-and-white movie. Farrell is cast as more of a puppy dog victim where Eastwood had a bite of rage in him. The school girls, at once enamored by the appearance of a man, terrified by the enemy in their mist turn into spiteful misandrists who want to take out any man who disturbs their own private Eden for the sins of all men. Instead of a complex back and forth of nuanced intentions and misunderstandings, this movie finds one note and hits it like a punching bag. That said, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning are pretty solid in this. They seem to be relishing the juiciest parts.
Even without comparisons to the original, The Beguiled plays out like Somewhere and The Bling Ring and every other tone-deaf, dispassionate work that Sophia Coppola has banged out in recent years. She’s so disinteresting in the atmosphere, the visuals, the depth of the characters and engaging an audience with thrills that Beguiled feels like the work of someone who would rather be directing this material on a Broadway stage then as a film.
Actually, a theatrical version of The Beguiled sounds pretty perfect.