“Stone” – 2010 – movie – directed by John Curran –
Produced by the music team of: David Mimran and Jordon Schur.
- the players are; Jack Maybry (Robert Di Niro), Stone/Creeson (Edward Norton), Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), Madylyn (Frances Conroy), Miss Dickerson (Sandra Love Aldridge), Guard Peters (Greg Trzaskoma) – camera work (Maryse Alberti), editing by (Alexandre de Franceschi). Shooting began in May of 2009 – there were 47 intermittent shooting days - it premiered in September 2010.
The budget was about $25 million, but even the excellent abilities of the cast could not attract more than $8 million at the box office. Di Niro, who was making about $20 million per picture at the time, took a hit on this one and was paid only $2.5 million…. barely a boat payment. If you’re able to buy into the story line, stand by for 105 minutes of fast-paced, dialogue-driven, razor-sharp, acting talent.
The film was shot on various locations in Michigan and at the correctional facility in Blackman Township. In the state and jurisdiction where our movie takes place, the probation/parole officer to whom the parolee will report to, sits on the parole board. Serving 20 to life for his role in the deaths of his grandparents and knowing his chances are slim, our convicted arsonist Gerald Creeson (Edward Norton) needs Jack Maybry’s (Robert De Niro) vote to qualify for early release.
The film opens in a flashback to a younger Jack and his wife Madylyn. As he watches golf on television, she enters the room, hands him a glass of whiskey and carries their sleeping daughter upstairs, placing her on the bed.
As she stands by the open window a bee buzzes against the screen, trying frantically to get out.
She returns to their living room and tells Jack that she is leaving him. He runs upstairs, grabs their sleeping daughter, kicks out the screen, and holding her outside the windows, threatens to drop her unless Madylyn promises to stay.
Madylyn closes the window crushing the bee. The analogy here is pretty heavy-handed…. the crushed bee and her crushed hopes of ever leaving and having a normal loving life. I gotta stop right here for a sec, cuz you should be saying, “hey wait a minute”.
Because of the web and the convenient availability of movies on DVD, audiences aren’t as unaware of movie-making technique as they were just a few years ago. The film has barely started and already I’m wondering how the director, John Curran and the producers – two music executives; Jordan Schur & David Mimran – could approve the two continuity mistakes that we just watched..
I feel like a real pain-in-the-ass, nitpicker here but bear with me for a moment. Jack runs into their daughter’s bedroom, picks her up, kicks out the screen in the window, holds her outside and threatens to drop her. You’re expected to suspend belief somewhat when watching a movie, but here we’re supposed to imagine that in this scene the daughter continues to sleep throughout this entire dramatic confrontation. She should be screaming her head off and in fear for her life.
And then…. we come to the bee. Duhhhh… when Jack kicks out the screen you’d kinda think that the bee, which plays a pivotal role in our little analogy, would have buzzed off. Nope, the bee wrangler brings him back, they put the screen in place and Madylyn crushes him with the closing window… now… that’s commitment! They don’t pay those bees enough.
Back to the future, Madylyn and Jack are attending a church service… the perfect picture of the long suffering, but enduring older couple.
However, we now know what kind of a man this cop is and what his relationship with his wife has been for last 30 years. Giving credit where it’s due, Di Niro and Conroy are able to convey in this short scene -
without the benefit of dialogue - that the intervening years have been brutal. The deadly virus that infected their lives so long ago has left but a dry husk of their marriage.
After the church service – in a back to the future moment – the living room scene above is re-enacted in perfect synchronicity… he’s watching golf, she brings him a drink… and in a statement that defines the intervening 30 years, she sits and continues to piece together a puzzle on an end table, what a life.
Cut to the prison - Enter Creeson... a 20-to-life convict seeking early parole for his participation in his grandparent’s deaths. Here we have another plot mistake. When Jack is in his boss’s office discussing his retirement he says “I’d like to stay on some of my currents.” But our antagonist, Creeson, is not one of his current prisoners… Jack has never seen Creeson.
In our introduction to Creeson (Edward Norton in cornrows) he explains, in rapid prison rap fashion, why he deserves Jack’s vote to get early parole. It’s obvious that Creeson is in control of this scene. He has correctly deduced that Jack is a very unhappy man.
With his eye on his mark, Creeson segues into a pornographic rap about his beautiful wife Lucetta, extoling her appetite for sexual athleticism. Jack, a conservative Episcopalian who is obsessed with religious radio programming and committed to an unhappy marriage, is a walking target for the deliciously played, slutty Lucetta…. who, it is revealed, teaches kindergarten. Creeson puts Lucetta in his path.
This little plot turn makes it hard for me to accept that Jack doesn’t recognize the very obvious moves Lucetta makes to gain his attention. In the real world he would have seen her coming on to him from a mile away…. 25 years on the job... retirement looming? It’s hardly believable.
But Jack, our flawed protagonist, easily falls into Lucetta’s tender clutches leaving Madylyn spending her evenings alone, but with knowing awareness, on the porch swing with her glass of whisky.
Lucetta screws his brains out and at the end of an particularly athletic session he tells her that “nobody can know about this.” Excuse me? I’m sorry, I wanted to like this movie as much as I Iike the leading players. I’m sure that the producers (our music guys) figured that Di Niro, Norton & Jovovich in name alone would guarantee a box office success….. ya can’t fool all the people all the time.
Meanwhile…. Jack and Madylyn’s weekends are spent sipping glasses of whisky while reading alternating passages from his and her copies of the Bible opened upon the dining room table.
If you’re searching for an underlying message here it would be easy to assume that the movie makers have climbed aboard the anti-belief bandwagon. They’ve given us Jack, who professes religion, but not belief. A man with his hypocrisy hidden behind a wall of religious platitudes.
With some misgiving Creeson accepts that Lucetta has scored with Jack. Once Jack has submitted his approval to the parole board, Creeson confesses to him, his true role in his crime. Jack finally sees that he’s been played…. he tries to get his parole decision reversed… no way, unless he’s willing to jeopardize his retirement.
What we witnessed here in their relationship was a role reversal…. Stone became more in control and Jack became more unstable and erratic.
In our closing scenes Creeson has been released and with some soul searching effort sets himself on a path to redemption.
We find Jack sitting on his front porch with his 38 snubby in his hand, drinking bourbon and jumping up every time a car passes. A fire breaks out in their house and leaves it a charged ruin.
Jack makes a fool of himself at his retirement party and his life spirals down into a series of dark inner revelations focused on his failure and unredeemable guilt….. bring up the sound track… the bee buzzes against the screen…. there is no escape.