“Stone” is, in all probability, a film you haven’t seen, and maybe haven’t even heard of. I remember seeing a trailer for it awhile ago and made a mental note because I love Edward Norton, and noticed he was acting against De Niro, which I figured would be a big deal. Then I forgot about it until I was searching on Netflix for something to load to my iPad, and there it was.
The pace of the film is slow. It creeps and seeps on by. If you’re looking for action, there’s a moment or two, and sex, same, but that really has nothing to do with the film. The story is about life, faith, forgiveness, sin, redemption, God, the tussle between the God of wrath and control and the One that is a part of everything, even the horrid, the inexplicably horrifying. “Really?” you ask.
Edward Norton, who plays Stone, starts out as his “American History X” character, slack-jawed, slurring, slang-filled, so nasty it’s shocking. And that’s the point. He is bad beyond redemption, and he sits across the desk from De Niro playing the one sitting in judgment. De Niro plays Jack, who will decide if Stone should be granted parole. But we are in on Jack’s secret; he’s not as righteous as he pretends. And Stone seems to smell it.
There’s a bit of slip up in Norton’s character when he betrays the ugly baseness he is supposed to portray. He uses the word “boisterous” with too much ease….I mean, what hoodlum’s vocabulary includes “boisterous”? But whatever…maybe it’s just the brainiac Norton shining through. I thought maybe Norton slipped into himself for a moment. Or maybe it was foreshadowing of what’s to come…
“Stone” is probably too obvious. I mean, the church-going, right-side-of-the-desk guy goes all sleazy, and the sleazy guy gets all Zen. And the true blue woman, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), who is also a slut, ends up dumped and sitting alone in a biker bar. What’s the point?
For me, I guess the point is that it’s not all what it seems, and redemption is found in a million different ways, some of them strange and unexpected. And there is justice, some kind of cosmic, often unseen, justice. I am not even sure why I liked it. I just did.
Maybe it is the film’s pace…the long rest of the camera on the actors’ faces, that lets us in, deeply in, to the characters they are playing. Its sound, which is starkly quiet. Or maybe it’s the dialogue:
Stone: You ever think about things they say go on forever?
Stone: Things they say go on forever – like… what’s that mean, you know? The sky, like, they say the sky goes on forever. But what is that really? That’s – I mean, you can’t see nothing you can’t see, so… it’s like a big bowl of blue above you. You can see clouds during the day or you can see stars at night maybe, but even with a telescope you can’t see forever. So how do they know?
Lucetta: Know what?
Stone: What it is. Eternity – how do they know?
Or perhaps it’s the film’s use of fire – raging, purging flame reaching up into the heavens. Or the film’s idea that everything is fine by God. And that it is we who judge, and who mind, and who need right, wrong, jail and vengeance. And that need, which keeps us separate, with some of us behind bars, and others who ought to be, out living free but in a jail of our own making, is the deep, gnawing sadness of living here on Earth.