With Robert De Niro and Edward Norton’s names resting comfortably atop the title of the film on the poster one would think that nothing could go wrong in Stone. Turns out choice acting doesn’t always make perfection. Instead the film still manages to sink like a stone.
De Niro plays Jack Mabry, a parole officer who is soon to retire. Before he can leave he has one last case to consider, that of a man named Stone who is in prison for his part in a horrible crime years ago. In order to get out on parole early Stone must convince Mabry that he has come to the right side of the law while behind bars and will no longer be a danger when released back into the world.
The films main story line revolves around the manipulation and relationship of three key figures. As the man who seems to hold the power in this battle, De Niro perches behind his desk, gavel in hand and at the ready to come crashing down to prevent Stone from getting out on early parole. Even if his outer appearance doesn’t really bring a whole lot of confidence to his character, Stone still has a few cards left to play in order to convince Mabry that he is a reformed man, one in which involves the wife he has waiting for him on the outside who is more than willing to do anything for him.
Following am awkward flashback to open the film, it quickly starts its downward sinking early on with the sound editing that seems to try to hard to present one of the themes of the film. It irritates more than it inspires thought, leaving the audience in an agitated state when the characters of the film are introduced.
And what an introduction it is. Though De Niro and Norton have the resumes and acclaim of the best of them, their performances here seem to be hindered by the comparisons that can be drawn to other things, including overly stereotypical characters. When Stone enters Mabry’s office for the first time he slumps into the chair with that special “world against me attitude,” cornrows, and a ridiculous accent that threw me back to memories of the racist arguments made towards two Autobots in the last Transformers film. The outer layer may interfere with connecting to Norton’s performance at first, but as the film progresses he does play up the manipulative nature of the character and it is hard to really know whether to believe his presentation of sincerity or if it is all a game to get the desired end result.
In opposition to the “I found Jesus in my soup!” nature of Stone’s possible transformation, De Niro fills the shoes of a religious man that counterbalances the transformation of Norton’s character. Unfortunately instead of being impressed by his usual skill as an actor I couldn’t help but feel as if I was watching a performer on Saturday Night Live doing an impression of the De Niro as opposed to being immersed in the character he is trying to create. Milla Jovavich fills out the other corner of the triangle with these two men, filling yet another character that feels very surface level even though they have tried to give her some depth like the other roles. Jovavich does well as the pawn to Stone’s possible scheming, but not much is asked of her.
The weak acting is most likely brought on by the less than inspired story they are stuck in. Nothing feels exciting about it, and even as things change it still manages to feel as stagnant as ever. Maybe expectations were too high or maybe the point of the film was lost on the most of us, but I left the theater with the same thoughts as many around me: “What the heck was that?” I really don’t know.
Final Grade: D