“Stone,” the new film starring powerhouse method actors Robert de Niro and Edward Norton, is the very definition of an actor’s movie. Richly drawn characters populate the film giving actors a chance to brood, use funny accents and, in the case of Milla Jovovich, deliver a career altering performance. It’s just too bad the story doesn’t give the actors the support they deserve.
De Niro plays parole case worker Jack Mabry. He’s a month away from retirement, and in an effort to cross ts’s and dot i’s he’s clearing his desk of all his outstanding paperwork. One of his final cases is Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Norton), an arsonist looking for spiritual enlightenment and a way out of prison. They engage in an elaborate verbal game but when words fail, Stone resorts to plan B, convincing his wife Lucetta (Jovovich) to seduce Mabry and use blackmail to earn his release from jail. She’s a willing participant, but soon after ethical and moral lines are crossed the deception deepens, revealing the true character of all involved.
First and foremost “Stone” is a movie to be admired for its performances. Norton, corn rows and all, impresses, playing a riff on the sketchy but emotionally layered characters he’s played before in films like “American History X” and “Primal Fear.” Mabry seems like a character De Niro could play in his sleep, a family guy with a reserve of rage hidden just under the surface, but his skilful performance takes Mabry to interesting and unexpected places. The biggest surprise, however, is Jovovich. The queen of the “Resident Evil” series taps into previously unseen reservoirs of talent, hinting that she may soon add Oscar nominee to her imdb listing.
The performances are admirable but as good as they are the story won’t inspire admiration, just frustration. It has the bones of a gripping drama but as the running time approaches the ninety minute mark character motivations become muddled and Norton’s metaphysical transformation seems more like a plot device than a believable life change. It allows Norton to do some interesting work but feels like it belongs in a different movie. Near the end it almost feels as though director John Curran (who worked with Norton before on the period drama The Painted Veil) ran out of time and had to tie up all the story shards in the quickest, most efficient way possible. There is little resolution and a metaphor, at least that’s what I think it is, involving a fly is mystifying.
“Stone” shines when it focuses on the actors but sinks like a, well, stone story wise.