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.