Quick Hit: Beautiful and slowly burning to a consequence we all see coming.
The Beguiled is both a remake and a brand new film. There was an original film from 1971 starring Clint Eastwood, but that film is so different in so many subtle ways that director Sofia Coppola deserves credit for creating something that is truly new. To summarize the plot, the civil war has been raging for three years, and Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) has been running a school for girls alone with one teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Around this time, a young girl named Amy (Oona Laurence) collecting mushrooms for food finds wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). After taking him into the school for girls, the debate begins with what to do with him.
This movie could have been super trashy – a young corporal taken into a home full of ladies who haven’t had a male in the home in years, but Coppola is too crafty for that. Though she allows some nods at this, like Elle Fanning’s character Alicia, she instead crafts a thriller around these expectations. Her film focuses on what makes the script great, and that’s the actors, but it also allows quiet moments for you to actually think. When that is combined with her beautiful eye for gothic-type imagery (some of the draping moss off a tree branch, a thicket too impenetrable to see through, light streaking through the branches on a young girl on a balcony), the film is mesmerizing from the start and has very few missteps. Its cinematography alone was worth the watch.
Colin Farrell is probably the perfect cast for McBurney. He is perfectly believable as the Irishman off the boat who gets in over his head in the Civil War – and it’s great to hear his native voice here. But where he truly shines is in his performance of a man who is willing to exploit every single option he has to get a chance to stay alive and stay somewhere safe. Whether that is charming Miss Martha with dreams of stabilizing the house somewhat, romantically wooing Edwina with tales of rescue from her lonesome day to day, or even friendship with Amy. I can’t think of an actor that could shift so effortlessly from having a smolder for Alicia (Ell Fanning) that can change in an instant to a friendly smile at Amy. It’s a masterful bit of acting by Farrell, who holds his own around some terrific actresses.
Man, are these ladies good or what? Whether it’s Kidman’s prim and proper Miss Martha slowly being seduced by the aspect of a man to do the “man’s” work, or Edwina’s seduction via shoulder, there are so many moments that focus on the skill that these talented actresses bring. I especially enjoyed the fact that Edwina only wavers once in the entire movie in her melancholy role, which is the corset-ripping scene (Wowza).
With as much of a wavering tower as has been built throughout the movie, is it any surprise when it all comes crashing down? As the stakes grow higher, the screws turn tighter, and McBurney shows he has more than just charm within him. But as this is a movie about the strength of women, is it any wonder that they respond in way to this masochistic attitude, where he blames them as “vengeful bitches” for all the problems that have befallen him? The ending is probably the second most effective use of mushrooms that I’ve watched this year.
I really liked the film, and though it moves slow, I think there is enough there that almost anyone will like it. I’m giving it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"