Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst
Directed by: Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”)
Written by: Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”)
I’ve never seen Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, “The Beguiled,” and I imagine that there are plenty of fascinating and inevitable nuggets to be discovered in comparing it with Sofia Coppola’s new adaptation. You won’t find such critical comparisons here, which is for the best since everything should be judged on its own merit. The “is this movie really necessary” argument is already being thrown around, and to those simpletons I retort: is any?
Coppola’s film boasts an epic cast featuring the likes of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice and many more. The story is simple enough. After finding a wounded Union soldier in the woods, a Confederate all-girl boarding school finds its repetitive, undisturbed routine upended by the presence of a man in the house. True to the title, Farrell plays his character with the perfect mix of charm and rot. Coppola slowly peels back the layers of all her characters, revealing the darkness that resides in some of her characters while shattering the innocence of others. It’s compelling storytelling, though if you’re not a fan of Coppola’s steady pacing you may not find much to enjoy here.
This is a very tense and suspenseful movie, but it is also laugh-out-loud darkly comedic. “The Beguiled” throws us into a world where order, restraint, reverence, and etiquette are just as if not more oppressive than the war that rages on just outside the house’s gate. The opening shot of the film follows a young girl through woods flooded with cannonball smoke as the sounds of war echo. It’s the perfect way to open a film about creeping evil, and Philippe Le Sourd peppers the film with similar images to amplify that mood. The costumes from Stacey Battat, Coppola’s regular collaborator, tell so much about each character, marking this film as a perfect fusion of elements behind and in front of the camera.
That subdued style of storytelling works great as buildup, and while the payoff in the final act is explosive and dark, it could have gone darker. This is an R-rated movie, but the only given reason is sexuality (there’s thrusting; shame!). Coppola doesn’t seem to have any interest in embracing her R-rating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it may have done “The Beguiled” some good if she had pushed the envelope a bit further.
Still, what remains is incredibly powerful and unforgettable. Part of what makes “The Beguiled” so entertaining is that it constantly changes what character you feel compelled to root for. I don’t really think there’s anything empowering about this movie. It’s a horrifying look into the complex intricacies of human nature. No matter how much of a front one tries to put on, there’s always insidious malevolency lurking beneath.