“But mark this:  there will be terrible times in the last times.  People will be lovers of themselves….boastful, proud, abusive, unholy, without love, unforgiving, without self-control, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.”   (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
            “Stone” is one of those movies that contains much of the appearance of religion, but a stark lack of sincerity.   Robert DeNiro plays Jack, a parole officer attached to the prison, who makes recommendations to the parole board about particular inmates.  He’s a month away from retirement.  He’s been doing this for so long he seems immune to all the con games and attempted manipulations, and yet, somewhere along the way he’s so hardened himself to their imprecations that he’s forgotten how to care.  He really needs to be retired.  In fact, they’ve already hired his successor, and he’s already begun giving her his case load.  But there’s just a few active files he wants to finish first---one of them being a convict named Stone.
            Edward Norton is fantastic in this role.   He’s alternately cajoling, whining, wheedling, complaining, charming, seething, avaricious, detached, intense-----he plays it all as he tries to get under Jack’s skin.   Stone so desperately wants out of the penitentiary---at first he claims he was only an unwitting accessory at the crime scene, but we later learn that not only was he complicit, he was the stone-cold ringleader.  And yet….how much do we believe anything he says, especially after he starts getting religion, not the traditional kind, but some sort of God-in-nature pantheistic thing that makes him start sounding like a misplaced and misunderstood mystic.  This is one complex character.
            Jack, meanwhile, seems to have lost all his moorings.  He practices a traditional Episcopalianism, but without conviction or enthusiasm.  We see him in church singing a hymn beside his wife, taking communion at the altar rail, even making an appointment with the priest to somehow speak about his disaffection---but, unfortunately, all we hear from the collared cleric are pious platitudes and meaningless pop slogans.  His wife, Madylyn (Frances Conroy), seems to have an active piety—she’s always reading her devotional books, and encouraging him to lead them in prayer before meals, and listening to the Christian radio stations---but her secret smoking and private drinking and surreptitious street language suggest there’s untapped anger which is being ignored by everybody.
            Somehow, Stone manipulates Jack to meet up with his wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), who plays the sexy siren that Jack knows he shouldn’t fall for---but he’s weak, and easily corrupted, and lacks the inner strength of possessing any true moral compass himself.  Madylyn knows something is wrong, but Jack won’t talk to her about it, and this only adds to her sorrows about all the times he has insisted on her ministrations but closed himself off from any true intimacy.
            Yes, there are lots of emotionally desperate people here, and we know that’s a volatile mix, that’s unlikely to turn out well.  And yet….we are still disappointed to see such emptiness in people who seem so intent on dissipation and dissolution.
            “Stone” is intense, visceral, and tingling with anticipation---but people who go to movies for light-hearted entertained will not be amused.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas