[Early Review] The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola

93 mins. Rated R for some sexuality.

 

The Beguiled is the second adaptation of the 1966 novel A Painted Devil (rather than a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood) and features Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as a Civil War soldier taken in by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, TV’s Big Little Lies, The Hours) after he is found injured nearby. Miss Martha runs a girls’ school in Virginia, and Corporal McBurney is the first interaction many of the women have had with the war. Miss Martha is untrusting of the man and how quickly he gains the trust of teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, Hidden Figures) and the girls of the school. Miss Martha continues to remind him that he will leave as soon as he is healed and repeatedly threatens to turn him over to the Confederate Army. The house is very quickly altered by McBurney’s presence, bubbling with sexual tension and jealousy among the inhabitants until finally it takes a shocking and unexpected turn, putting them all in grave danger.

I had to really tiptoe around this synopsis as I dare not spoil the events depicted in this new film from Writer/Director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, A Very Murray Christmas). I would also advise you to avoid trailers for the film as they give away a bit too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Beguiled much more than I expected to.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the film. First, the writing of Colin Farrell’s character. I love Colin Farrell when he gets it right. Sure, he’s had stumbles in his career, but when he nails it, he really nails it. And he is great in The Beguiled, but the manner in which his character is written doesn’t feel like a fully-formed arc. His performance is top notch but there isn’t enough screen time for us as viewers to accept the journey his character takes.

I also didn’t really like the ending. It felt almost too easy, and there’s a near-horrific plot point that gets brushed away too easily that would’ve made things more interesting. Overall, the ending does linger with you, but I think there could’ve been more to it.

Everything else in the film is amazing, most notably the incredible performance from Nicole Kidman. Coming off her Oscar-nominated performance in Lion, Kidman is chillingly cold as Miss Martha, a motivated and strong woman who takes charge of her situation. There’s a beauty to her performance with an underlying uneasiness, especially when she shares the screen with Farrell. The rest of the performances are great as well, but I want to recognize Elle Fanning (Maleficent, 20th Century Women) and Angourie Rice (who you may remember from last year’s The Nice Guys, if anyone else actually saw it) for their turns as members of the school. Both of these actresses give impressive turns in every film and The Beguiled is no exception.

Sofia Coppola became the second female director ever to win Best Director at Cannes (and hopefully we won’t wait 50 years for another), and The Beguiled is a worthy film of such an award. Its tension and drama is all based around its characters , usually a win for Coppola. The film stumbles rarely, but manages to pick itself up rather quickly and recover. It’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and it is worth your time to catch it when it expands to wide release this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

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