Edward Norton is one of the most talented actors of his generation because he convincingly portrays a wide variety of characters. A similar statement could be made about Robert De Niro, who has played an equally diverse set of parts with great conviction. Based on the strength of both men's abilities it was a logical move to pair them together again on-screen in the drama "Stone." Their previous collaboration "The Score" proved that they work well as opposing forces.
Unfortunately for "Stone," the presence of powerhouse actors like Norton and De Niro is unable to rescue the film from its banal treatment of life in the American Midwest and the obvious juxtaposition of freedom and imprisonment. "Stone" dabbles in several concepts such as morality, spirituality, and loyalty; however it does not pay enough attention to any of them to make a cohesive story. To abuse a cliché, it leaves several stones unturned, which is disappointing.
Norton plays the title character Stone, a former drug user from the wrong side of the tracks, with a raspy voice and a set of corn rows. Stone is a convict seeking parole, who employs his attractive wife (Milla Jovovich) to seduce his parole officer (De Niro). He believes he has paid the time for his crimes and should be allowed to return to society.
Stone butts heads immediately with De Niro’s Jack, who is a seasoned parole officer on the verge of retirement. Even though Jack walks around free, the film goes to great lengths to show you how imprisoned he is by a life that makes him miserable. He clearly has lost all passion for his wife, and he listlessly engages in activities like attending church just to go through the motions.
Over the course of the movie it’s never quite clear Stone’s exact motivations, whether they are a devious conman at work, or simply a misunderstood character seeking a second chance. The same goes for Stone’s wife Lucetta, who is in on the scheme as well. She never seems to reveal whether she actually enjoys Jack’s company or if it’s all an act.
Jack is equally puzzling, since he’s a veteran parole officer that easily falls prey to Stone’s plot. Seemingly any person like Jack’s character should be able to see through the deceit and to prevent a career shattering mistake like his.
Aside from the unclear intentions of its characters, the pacing of the movie is laboring, dragging you through uninspiring events in the characters’ lives like Jack attending church with his wife or Lucetta looking after her students on the playground. Perhaps this is meant to make some kind of point about life in the Midwest, but regardless, it’s just plain boring.
The filmmakers introduce a concept which implicates that a person can really become synced up with God through their observance of everyday sounds. It is a philosophy that Stone encounters in prison and permeates the overall movie. This is represented through elevated ambient sounds in the environment and religious radio clips that are interspersed in the film. While it’s an interesting idea in theory, there’s never adequate explanation of its relevance to be worth its inclusion.
Fans of Robert De Niro and/or Edward Norton should steer clear of “Stone.” The dragging pace and poorly developed story will only frustrate you instead of delivering your fix.
My Grade: C-