“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
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