Director: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, and Emma Howard
In the midst of the summer blockbuster season, it’s understandable that we would get a remake or ten. So why am I making this statement in review about Sophia Coppola’s “The Beguiled”, because, unknown to a few people, it’s a remake of a Don Siegel directed film of the same title from 1971, which starred Clint Eastwood. “The Beguiled” is one of Mr. Eastwood’s most overlooked and severely underrated films. A tale that straddles the line of horror and melodrama, it offered Mr. Eastwood an opportunity to take a break from the western hero character that had defined his early work and ushered in a transition for the actor to become the updated hero with a gun in “Dirty Harry”.
Sophia Coppola has quite a career already; “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation” are two highlights that display the director’s talented eye for filmmaking. It may seem obvious to those that are familiar with Ms. Coppola’s catalog to understand why she would remake “The Beguiled”, the director has a particular talent for crafting strong and complicated female leads but also creating an interesting and multifaceted ensemble. Ms. Coppola’s version of “The Beguiled” is a captivating work, one that is beautifully photographed and filled with absorbing characters.
While collecting mushrooms in the smoke of the morning surrounding an old plantation house in the South sometime during the Civil War, young Miss Amy (Oona Laurence) encounters a wounded Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Showing compassion on the man, Miss Amy helps him back to her home, a former school for girls that is run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). The small group of women nurse Mr. McBurney back to health, an agreement is made that once he is better the group will call the Confederate troops roaming the area to take him into custody. However, Mr. McBurney manipulates his way into the lives of these women, turning them against one another..
Ms. Coppola’s style of filmmaking is restrained and quiet at times, ethereal in the way the narrative and camera evokes emotion from certain scenes and characters. The entire location is immersed in a haze of canon smoke; you can feel the destruction and isolation of the world around them. The design of the environment is exceptional, many times resembling a fairy tale in certain moments.
The narrative here still brings in the element of fear; is Mr. McBurney someone who can be trusted? Are his intentions pure? Where the original film went for something more akin to a gothic horror film that reveled in the exploitive elements of sex and violence, Ms. Coppola’s is more interested in developing a dramatic thriller that focuses on the atmosphere created by people and the subtle characterizations associated with women of different ages and experiences. For the director’s style, “The Beguiled” works better as the moody character piece that she is trying to create. To assist, the film also adds in some interesting narrative facets. There is a greater emphasis on the outside world invading and influencing the environment of the women. The emotions that Mr. McBurney makes the women feel allow them to envision a life away from the plantation, a life some of them are desperately trying to reach.
Unfortunately Ms. Coppola’s effort erases a significant aspect of this time period, chiefly the aspect of slavery. While the film never makes it a point to let the politics of the world surrounding the plantation to invade, aside from a few Confederate soldiers who stop by momentarily, this film is content to stay with the women and their uninvited guest.
Nicole Kidman seems made for the role of Miss Martha, her cold and methodical personality fits the structure of the school. You can feel her influence on every character in the film. The director’s reliable collaborator, Kirsten Dunst, is also great as Miss Edwina. Ms. Dunst has a consistent look of remorse on her face, it’s not until the soldier enters the equation that Miss Edwina shows a glimmer of a smile, a glimmer of hope. Elle Fanning also shines as the meddlesome and coy Miss Alicia, playing the character somewhat naïve but also completely understanding of what she is doing, her connection with Mr. McBurney is played as a game.
“The Beguiled” is a beautifully composed film, a signature quality of Ms. Coppola’s style in crafting scenes and establishing an environment. While the energy in the film wanes slightly at times, in the steady hands of Ms. Coppola it’s still a haunting and subversive take on the original story.
4.00 out of 5.00