Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence
Oscar winning writer and director Sofia Coppola is back and puts her stamp on a 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name. It’s 1864 and three years into the Civil War. Nicole Kidman stars as Miss Martha who runs a private all-girls home deep in an old seminary. It’s nestled within a secluded area in Virginia. She oversees six girls who live there as they’re getting their education by Edwina (Dunst), tending to the gardens, and doing other household chores. Their simple day to day lifestyle is shaken up by the presence of a wounded soldier found stranded out in the woods by the young and innocent Amy (Laurence). She brings Corporal John McBurney (Farrell) up to the home where Miss Martha tends to his medical needs. The girls are intrigued by the presence of a soldier in their home despite the fact that he’s a Yankee. Edwina has her guard up, while Elle Fanning’s Alicia is lured in by her budding sexuality. The struggle with desire and power between the girls and their new guest goes too far leading to dangerous outcomes.
From the film’s opening scenes, you are immediately transported to Virginia in the Civil War days. Philippe Le Sourd’s exquisite cinematography captures that somber and hot atmosphere of the south. I could practically feel the heat and mist seeping through the screen. There’s a vast emptiness at hand for these women as they are all alone as Confederate soldiers march on by the seminary’s property. The appearance of Corporal John McBurney brings out the biggest challenge any of them will ever have to face. Clint Eastwood previously portrayed the character and is now inhabited by Colin Farrell. Both men have the dashing and rugged good looks needed to stir up the desires of Edwina and Alicia. Elle Fanning previously played a sexually driven teen in 20th Century Women and once again is tasked with that position as teen sexuality and womanhood is explored with the presence of a charming soldier. Alicia knows how to use it to her advantage, and it’s further proof of why Fanning is a young star on the raise to keep your eye on.
The Beguiled is a fascinating examination of doing the decent human thing of helping someone who’s sick and wounded regardless of the negative stereotype that may surround them. This feels extremely topical as race relations, gender stereotypes, and profiling always seem to be at the forefront of our news right now. As Miss Martha, Nicole Kidman reminds the girls not to judge the soldier solely based on the fact that he’s from the north. The film’s timeline of events are contained to the short period it’s set in. Part of the mystery comes from not knowing what his background is or even the lives the girls came from before they got to the seminary. Kidman keeps her character very present and in the moment at first, but becomes more calculating with her every move to keep the upper hand against John. It’s a subtle but extremely effective performance. She’s been having a stellar year thanks to this and a career-changing role in HBO’s Big Little Lies.
Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation) defies modern movie going standards by not trying to rush any given beat. Don’t be turned off by the slower pace. It accurately fits the period with the extremely simple and basic lives the girls are living. There’s not a lot of action in the first half until it takes that sharp and unexpected turn. Coppola relies on the dialogue, the relationships of the girls, and the overarching reminder that the war is happening to keep this film shrouded in uncertainty. It becomes more complex when we find out that each of these girls has their own motivations for what they want out of the soldier.
The film has a convenient runtime of 93 minutes. It’s extremely short when you think about how the standard summer blockbuster has been pushing the two and a half hour marker. Coppola doesn’t waste any time nor does she feel the need to drag out the suspense. I applaud the length, as the film doesn’t need to be any longer, yet I left wanting more time with these characters. Kidman, Dunst, and Fanning bring richness to them that leave a lasting impression. The Beguiled is a movie that silently sits with you. It’s not a loud or explosive film, but you’ll find yourself thinking about it in the days following. There are certain images that are perfectly captured and make a statement.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? The company of dynamic actresses gives this a slow and steady burn.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS