Dan's Review: "The Beguiled" long on style, short on narrative
Colin Farrell and Elle Fanning in The Beguiled - © 2017 Focus Features.
The Beguiled (Focus Features)
Rated R for some sexuality.
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke.
Written by Sofia Coppola, based on “A Painted Devil” by Thomas P. Cullinan.
Directed by Sofia Coppola.
All’s fair in love and war, they say. Such dynamics are in full display in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, the film adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel “A Painted Devil” (also adapted in 1971, with Clint Eastwood in the leading role).
This time around, Colin Farrell plays Corporal John McBurney, a Yankee soldier injured and left for dead behind Confederate battle lines during the American Civil War. When Amy (Oona Laurence) finds John in the woods while searching for mushrooms, she brings him back to her home, a boarding school for young women in Virginia. The school’s headmistress is Martha (Nicole Kidman) who manages Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), the school’s only other teacher. Besides Amy, four other girls are the only remaining residents of the school, including Alicia (Elle Fanning), Jane (Anguorie Rice), Marie (Addison Rieke) and Emily (Emma Howard). The women decide against immediately turning John over to the Confederacy so that they can mend the wound on his leg. As he convalesces, the older women (including Alicia, who is in her late teens) take a physical interest in the handsome Yankee, and John uses all his charms to win them over as well. When he heals, the women are faced with the dilemma of sticking to their original plan of turning John over to the Confederate soldiers, or keeping him around a while longer. Secretly, Edwina plans to run away with John to the west. When she goes to him late one night, she discovers he and one of the girls having a sexual encounter, which startles the others awake. In a moment of passion, John tumbles down the stairs and reinjures his leg so badly that Martha and Edwina are forced to amputate. When he awakens from the surgery, John goes into a rage over losing the leg, and lashes out at all the women. Fearing for their lives, the women must make a choice: do away with the Yankee or risk death.
The Beguiled is a movie that is long on style and cinematic presence, and short on a compelling narrative. The premise of an injured Yankee in the midst of a cloister of Southern belles and the sexual tension between them is the stuff of racy pulp novels and true detective stories. Without the Civil War-era costumes and beautiful Southern cinematography (filmed in Louisiana), The Beguiled might fit into a daytime soap opera episode. There’s also a certain amount of sexual brutality in The Beguiled that may not sit well with audiences, especially involving one of the teenage girls. I’m not sure if Sofia Coppola is trying to make a statement about “dangerous” men in dangerous situations involving women, the but resolution of their differences in the movie isn’t very encouraging.
Collin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and the other actors are serviceable and well cast, but none of the performances are deserving of any special note.
On the whole, The Beguiled may not be a very memorable film, but it isn’t a terrible one, either.
The Beguiled Trailer