Jack Mabry, as played by Robert DeNiro in director John Curran’s film ‘Stone’ is a miserable dude. Absolutely miserable. And this cat has been miserable an awful long time. He exists in a miserable marriage with a wife (Francis Conroy) he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him right back, he has a miserable job as a parole officer at the local jail which means that everybody he sees everyday is miserable… and he lives in Detroit. And living in Detroit is the best part of his life. We see early on some forty years ago that a lot of this miserableness that Jack lives with is of his volition but regardless, Jack Mabry is a miserable dude who is miserable to be around.
Stone, as played by Edward Norton, is miserable too but he’s miserable because he’s been in jail for eight years of a fifteen years stretch and he wants out. Stone did something real bad while on that stuff that resulted in a couple of people being dead and a house going up in flames, but that was then. Now Stone is all rehabilitated and just wants to be out, wants to spend time with his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) who Stone describes as an ‘alien from another planet’, and wants to restart his life. Before that can happen Stone has to convince Jack that he is fit to be out into the world.
It doesn’t start out well, both men being immovable objects not taking too kindly to each other, which eventually gets Stone to sick his Alien from Another Planet wife on Jack. Old man… loveless marriage… hot young thing… slutty beyond all reasonable belief… Things happen and it’s looking like Stone is about to get out of jail.
But then something strange happens to Stone in the midst of all of these shenanigans. He is searching, looking for spiritual guidance. Jesus and all those small print pages in The Bible didn’t seem to offer what he was looking for but then he stumbled upon some thin pamphlet, and for whatever reason, this pamphlet held all of the answers. Now there is clarity in Stone’s life. Things that seemed so important yesterday aren’t as important today. The bad things he’s done begin to make sense. It’s all part of God’s plan.
But while Stone’s vision is clear, Jack’s bourbon altered vision of life just gets blurrier and blurrier. He asks his pastor for guidance but he only guides Jack deeper into blurryville. The hot slut sure was a lot of fun for a while but she doesn’t believe in God so she’s no help. The miserable wife reads her Bible faithfully next to her own bottle bourbon so she’s no help. And soon Jack will retire and won’t even have the miserable job to lean on anymore. And we need a decision on Mr. Stone Creasy. What’s it going to be Jack? Put an arsonist back on the street who is probably bullshitting you, just because you got a piece of hot young ass? If only this movie were that simple.
‘Stone’, as it turns out, is the kind of movie that you have to ‘get’. You can sit back in your easy chair and just try to watch it like a regular movie if you want to, but it’s going to suck much worse than it already does if you do this. You realize from the word go as the buzzing fly is crushed at the end the dramatic opening scene… but what does it mean? The path that one of the characters wished to take is stopped, rerouted? This fly returns at the end… representing a brand new opportunity perhaps? A new path? Don’t crush the fly this time Jack… Don’t crush the fly… See what I’m saying? You gotta ‘get’ this stuff. I think I got it, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t an awful lot to enjoy about ‘Stone’. Edward Norton and Robert DeNiro playing off of each other, at times, was magical in this film. Some of the dialog and concepts that Curran was putting across, especially coming out of the mouths of these actors that he was fortunate to work with, was at times electrifying. After I had seen Milla Jovovich in that last ‘Resident Evil’ movie I was stunned at how bored and lifeless she seemed in that nonsense, but here, in this movie, this is the Milla Jovovich I’m used to seeing. Alive, unpredictable, setting each scene of fire with her mere presence. Again, there is an awful to enjoy about this movie.
The thing is… those things are all surface treatments. This movie is all about depth and meaning and understanding and this film took great pains to let me know that this is a movie about depth and meaning and understanding. It’s about a man who is free even though he is behind bars, it is about a man who is in prison even though he can go home every night, it’s about a woman who can finally hear the voice God now that the one thing obstructing her path has been cleared and it is about a woman will never hear the voice God. Yeah… I get all that. I just happened to enjoy the parts were Norton and DeNiro were yelling at each other and watching Milla Jovovich pick up random dudes in bars more than I enjoyed observing the essence of life depart from the eyes of a dying prisoner while Stone was desperately trying to understand the spiritual ramifications of the departure.
I do appreciate the attempt because we need deeper, more spiritual films. They just probably need to be better and possibly a little more subtly integrated within the narrative than what ‘Stone’ ended up giving us.