Directed by John Curran
Starring Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy
In “Stone,” lugubrious director John Curran paints a sordid tale of an arsonist (Edward Norton) who sics his nymphomaniac wife (Milla Jovovich) on his parole officer (Robert De Niro) to sweet-talk him (or, more accurately, bed talk him) into a lenient frame of mind. The movie, for some reason, is named after Norton’s corn-rowed jailbird, but it’s primarily about the parole officer, Jack Mabry, who falls for the wife’s wiles and spends the movie incapacitated by his moral downfall.
What happens when a man whose job is deciding whether bad people have turned good, actually turns bad himself? This central premise holds dramatic promise, but is ultimately undermined by a series of vague developments and labored twists and turns. Mabry is conflicted, but apart from a visit to his pastor and some irate grumbling about man’s innate evil, the finer points of his moral turmoil remain elusive.
Then there’s Stone, in prison for serving as an accomplice to his grandparents’ murder, who undergoes a transformation that is awkwardly precipitated midway through the film. It’s a self-reformation, of sorts, and it would be a lot more interesting if it didn’t feel like such a rote counterpoint to Jack’s descent.
De Niro makes a believable parole officer, an equable judge of character who can flip on the raw ferocity in an instant. Jovovich plays the wife with a captivating air of childlike impulsivity and sexual carnivorism. Norton is fine, though his performance mostly reminds you of how much better he was when he played a more compelling prisoner back in his debut movie, “Primal Fear.”
Steeped in extramarital sex, religious guilt and moral ambiguity, “Stone” is a mildly titillating psychological thriller that benefits from a likable cast. Too bad the cast couldn’t benefit from a better script.