MOVIE: THE BEGUILED
STARRING: NICOLE KIDMAN; KIRSTEN DUNST; COLIN FARRELL; ELLE FANNING
DIRECTED BY: SOFIA COPPOLA
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
In Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, every character is in their own personal kind of purgatory. In the distant, there is the constant sound of canons striking, as the civil war rages on in the background, keeping a house full of seven ladies fearful of venturing away from their southern plantation. When an injured man arrives on their doorstep, he's as foreign to them as an alien to a new planet or an infection to a host, in what I believe is Coppola's fascinating and multilayered masterpiece. The Beguiled is chalk full of gorgeous scenery, a phenomenal ensemble with textured performances, and moments that will strike various conversations after you leave the theater. It's not just one of the best movies of the year, The Beguiled is worthy of academic studies for years to come.
The film opens with a young girl named Amy (Oona Laurence), bouncing around the woods, searching for mushrooms to pick. To her surprise, she finds a man laying next to a tree with a badly wounded leg. His name is Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), a union soldier, who has run away from his regiment to save himself. The man is taken in by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and with the arrival of his presence, the band of ladies- Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, and Emma Howard- all begin to perk up, becoming effected by his hobbled existence in their home. Some develop friendships, tend to his needs, some feel compassion, others begin to reveal their sexual desires, and some want him out of the house right away.
Coppola sets the tone immediately, as cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd films the plantation in layers of fog, peaking sunlight, and candle light. The camera becomes the eyes of the ladies, often leering on Farrell's body, especially in a deliberate scene where Martha washes his chest and dirty fingers. The imagery all relates to the fact that this man is a catalyst, an enemy to these southern belles, but also a temptation, especially for the compassionate teacher Edwina (Dunst), while receiving sexed-up hormonal gazes from the bored out of her mind- Alicia (a mere perfect performance from Elle Fanning). The trappings of the civil war, the long absence of a male presence, Martha's guilt laden praying sessions, and societies restraints on the freedoms of women, put added stress on the passions of others, making McBurney a victim and the victimizer. There is nobody in this home that is innocent in their actions.
Based on Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel and a “sort of” re-make of the Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood 1971 version, this is par for the course for Coppola. Much like her previous films, The Virgin Suicides and The Bling Ring, she focuses on the influences of religion, wealth, and the wrongful restraints placed on women, no matter what time period. There is mystery in what she does not show, similar to last years The Handmaiden, she places a vail over the motives of our characters. Each person in The Beguiled, in their own unique way, represent a type, one of education (Dunst), protecting strength (Kidman), friendship (Laurence), and sexual desire (Fanning), all of the ladies paralyzed by the violence outside their walls created by men, while also weak to the arrival of a man that could promise a future.
As McBurney begins to get healthier, the ladies look for reasons he could possibly stay, to help around the home and garden the fields, but the more he stays, the more claustrophobic he will become. Coppola sets the film in small rooms, dark lit dinner tables, and has the ladies tangled on beds together. Corporal McBurney may eventually see himself in a position of power, he is but a fool to underestimate these circumstances. The walls are closing in on him and the weakness of his vulnerability is not something he should take lightly.
Alas, I could go on forever about The Beguiled. It is a fascinating film, focusing on a collection of characters that reveal one great performance after the next. I would say that Kidman's work is the best of the group, but that opinion changes as the northern wind blows. The true superstar is Coppola, who has made a film that speaks volumes on the craft of filmmaking. She is often left out of conversations as the greatest working directors today, but she is. The Beguiled is a luxurious, sumptuous, and phenomenal piece of work. You leave the theater bewitched, bothered, and bewildered...Go see The Beguiled.
Written by: Leo Brady