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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature prison drama is full of graphic sexual conversation and several sex scenes that include partial nudity (breasts, butts, etc.). The violence includes a bloody stabbing that's racially motivated, and the language is nonstop -- there's no swear word you can think of that isn't used. Additionally, the movie deals with lots of heavy topics that young kids and even most teens aren't old enough to understand -- marital malaise, redemption, sin, spiritual rebirth, prison's inability to rehabilitate, etc. This isn't an R-rated movie in which the sex and language are played for laughs; with such grown-up subject matter, this is drama is best for adults and possibly the most mature, film-loving older teens.
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What's the story?
Jack (Robert De Niro) is a department of corrections supervisor whose job requires him to suss out whether a prisoner should be recommended for parole. Nearing retirement, he decides to see his last round of open cases through, including the one of "Stone" (Edward Norton), a young man who's served eight years for accessory to an unspeakable crime against his own family. Stone has absolutely no filter and immediately begins to push Jack's buttons, revealing in graphic detail how much he misses his "dime" (i.e. "perfect 10") of a wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich). As Stone begins to doubt whether Jack will recommend parole, he enlists Lucetta to do whatever's necessary to seduce and influence Jack. While Lucetta attempts to use her considerable charm to help her husband, Stone begins to have a spiritual rebirth after seeing a man die up close and reading a guru's book. Is Stone a con man, or has he really changed for the better?
Is it any good?
Screenwriter Angus McLachlan (Junebug) is a master of dialogue, and he doesn't disappoint with STONE. The conversations between Norton and De Niro are electrifyingly good and at times uncomfortably honest (and, when it comes to sex, graphic). But with its talkiness and scanty number of locations -- it takes place mostly in Jack's prison office, the house he shares with his long-suffering wife Madylyn (a terriffic Frances Conroy), and the small apartment where Lucetta lives -- the movie feels like a well-written play that's been adapted for film. And while the dialogue sings, the outcome is far from satisfying -- not from a "happy ending" point of view, but from a "what happens now?" perspective. Ambiguity, of course, is a theme of the film -- it's never clear whether Stone is the second coming of the young pathological liar he played in Presumed Innocent or whether he's really experienced a revival of sorts. (What is clear is that the cast was perfectly selected. Even the actors who play young Jack and Madylyn in the opening scene -- Enver Gjokaj and Pepper Binkley -- look remarkably like De Niro and Conroy.)
All of the characters' early-afternoon drinking and smoking and casual sex adds a grimy film of discontent to the story, and the effect is a sinking feeling that nothing is going to be OK and that no one -- particularly Jack -- is going to end up happy, even if they are reborn. Jovovich, with her sugary-sweet voice and ethereal personality, oozes the kind of charisma that other women have to work quite hard to muster. Lucetta doesn't even have to try -- she can seduce a man with just a blink of her shockingly blue eyes, and when she sets Jack in her sights, he's basically a victim (a willing one, of course, but a victim just the same). This isn't an easy movie to watch, but if you're looking for an at-times meditative, at-times electrifying look at whether sinners can ever be truly redeemed, this is a fascinating film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. Is there any kind of positive take away here? Who do you think the film is intended to appeal to?
How did the movie's violence impact you? How does it compare to the kind of violence you see in an action movie? Which is more upsetting? Why?
This film feels more like a play than a movie. What about it -- dialogue, mood, setting -- would lend itself to the theater?
- In theaters: October 15, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: January 25, 2011
- Cast: Edward Norton, Frances Conroy, Milla Jovovich, Robert De Niro
- Director: John Curran
- Studio: Overture Films
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexuality and violence, and pervasive language