Written by: Daniel McDonald
I am so appreciative to the creative team here at ATHM for allowing me a fairly rare opportunity to cover a slice of (quite intentionally) overly rich, cinematic, Southern Gothic Shoe-fly Pie called THE BEGUILED, in both of its (in my humble opinion) wildly diverse, but eerily creative and rewarding ways.
The current adaptation written and directed by Academy Award and Cannes Film Festival winner Sofia Coppola, is generating mostly positive buzz. A few weeks ago I covered (quite favorably) the film It was preceded by, a 1971 version by veteran action director Don Siegel, starring then Hollywood Heartthrob Clint Eastwood. The film was a financial failure, as Universal Studios had no idea how to market its subversive sexuality, non-characteristic reversal of heroes and villains and unsettling, evil undertones.
Called by one local critic “a simmering potboiler of subversive sexuality and Gothic Veranda Horror” (which I’m sure he’d standby – as I do – if he was involved in this conversation we’re having now).
The film is the story of an Irish-born, severely wounded Yankee soldier (the, “oh dear God doesn’t this man ever age or look less than beautiful- unless it’s for a project” like his scene stealing work in HORRIBLE BOSSES, Colin Farrell) who finds himself trapped behind enemy lines. The fact that in both versions of the film, he is discovered on the property of a failing boarding house/school by the youngest female student, Amy, picking mushrooms for that evening’s dinner (Oona Laurence – unless otherwise noted, I will be discussing the 2017 adaptation) is a key, resonant piece of information. Given wonderfully defining metaphorical clarity Miss Coppola uses more organic images as opposed to the older male “there ya go” – but still effective heavier hand of Mr. Siegel, to convey the entrance of a male wolf into a pack of female sheep…or…
My excitement at the announcement that Miss Coppola would be writing as well as directing the current adaptation, was, of course partially due to her strengths and individualities in both areas Also, this was a story that from the first time I was lucky enough to catch it on a one week only run at my neighborhood movie house in 1971 and subsequent cable and television showings, I always had the curiosity what a female take on it would look, sound, smell and taste like. The fact that, while Mr. Farrell receives top billing this feels more like an ensemble piece mainly due to Eastwood’s star power (the next year DIRTY HARRY was born) and the performances (and oh yes, what performances) of Nicole Kidman as the headmistress and Kirsten Dunst as his love interest, a lonely teacher, while Mr. Eastwood had the equally strong, but not as marquis friendly Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman already gives one a hint that Miss Coppola seemed to be painting a similar picture with the narrative as Mister Siegel and Eastwood, but using deceptively lighter tones with softer but eventually sharper brush strokes.
Once again, a narrative situation of no spoilers raises its ugly head. This is a story that plays so well through the intricacies of quality direction, writing (I completely disagree with certain critics who don’t see a growth and maturity of Coppola’s work here). Perhaps the most beautifully designed and exquisitely photographed film of the year so far (Coppola’s go to genius Phillips Le Sourde) whose use of natural light, shadow and textural elements give the film the look of a naturally beautiful piece of fruit that, once cut open is rotten to the core.
The acting is as intricate, detailed and fragile as the film it inhabits. Kidman’s porcelain covered lava has never been put to better use. Every one of the young ladies (an overly ripe Elle Fanning, and frighteningly funny Addison Rieke) have moments of humor, horror or (to Coppola’s credit) both. In the original, the character portrayed by Elizabeth Hartman, here by Kirsten Dunst, is still a fascinatingly multi-leveled woman. But Dunst’s hopeless resignation to the final turn of events is actually more frightening than Hartman’s screaming banshee. Farrell is (in my humble opinion) an actor whose devastatingly charming good looks have caused him to be easily dismissed. I go back to his breakout role in TIGERLAND, through a career filled with hilarious HORRIBLE BOSSES, highly dramatic PHONE BOOTH and sexy/terrifying – his Jerry in FRIGHT NIGHT was perfection. Here, he is perfectly paired with an actress of Kidman’s looks and ability and a writer/director who lets him fly to help create an exquisite piece of “VIRANDA HORROR” that has a final image that has quietly crept into my subconscious and currently lives there I. J. S.