The Beguiled, B
Rated R, 94 minutes
The well-acted, stylish "The Beguiled" is the new Southern gothic drama from acclaimed director Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") and is a compelling look at the power and danger of enchantment. While occasionally plodding and heavy-handed, "The Beguiled" benefits from its strong feminine voice in front of and behind the camera, making 2017 a solid year for women in cinema.
Cpl. John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is an injured Union soldier who finds himself on the run as a deserter during the Civil War. He seeks refuge at an all-female Southern boarding school led by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), along with her assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Soon, sexual tensions lead to dangerous rivalries as the women tend to his wounded leg while offering him comfort and companionship.
"The Beguiled" is written and directed by Coppola and is her best film in years, and is evident in the buzz it garnered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where Coppola took home that festival's best director prize, only the second woman in its history to do so.
Based on the novel "The Painted Devil" by Thomas Cullinan, it's also a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic directed by Don Siegel with a memorable turn from Oscar-winner Geraldine Page in the role now inhabited by another Oscar-winner, Nicole Kidman, who is excellent here as the Southern belle and head of household for a young group of women who encounter the charming McBurney, perfectly played by the handsome Farrell.
This version, with a plodding second act, benefits from Coppola's sure hand and own ingratiating style, peppering the film with some nice moments of humor as McBurney has the women under his spell, only before taking a dark, self-destructive turn in the last act. It also helps that the film is lushly photographed by Oscar-nominee Phillippe LeSourd, perfectly capturing the essence of the Civil War South, along with detailed costumes and sets that also carefully evoke the period.
Led by Kidman and Farrell, rounding out the cast is Dunst, given less to do as the one who ultimately succumbs to McBurney's charms; Elle Fanning, whose role as the flirtatious Alicia is never quite fleshed out, and Oona Laurence ("Pete's Dragon") as the strong-willed Amy, responsible for bringing McBurney to the house in the first place.
The stylish, handsome "The Beguiled" will have you under its spell: it's funny, dark and thought-provoking. The film may seem geared toward women but should be required viewing for men, as it'll make you genuinely ponder the power of women, not to mention strongly reconsider any love you may have for mushrooms.