'Stone': Robert De Niro's Underappreciated Thriller

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Millennium Films


Host Ricky Gervais made all the headlines with his scorched-earth jokes at Sunday night's Golden Globes, but Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Robert De Niro nearly matched him for irreverence, if not for comic timing. During his jarring stand-up routine of an acceptance speech, De Niro poked fun at other celebrities, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and his own latest film, the critically reviled Little Fockers. He even made light of the hard work that he felt had gone unnoticed. Responding to the introductory clip reel, the actor said: "I think you would've enjoyed seeing a few seconds of Stanley & Iris, Everybody's Fine, Frankenstein, Marvin's Room, Stone. Some of you would be seeing them for the first time. ... Most of you would be seeing them for the first time. ... You didn't even watch the screeners, did you?"

That last entry in De Niro's list of unjustly overlooked movies, Stone, arrives on home video this week. The 2010 film, directed by John Curran (of the serviceable 2006 W. Somerset Maugham adaptation The Painted Veil) and written by Angus MacLachlan (of the superb Junebug), didn't even top $2 million at the domestic box office, despite its event-drama casting of De Niro opposite Edward Norton. The mixed reviews certainly didn't help. Too bad, because Stone is an unusually compelling film featuring performances—from De Niro, Norton, and Milla Jovovich—that stand shoulder to shoulder with much of the work currently being feted at coast-to-coast gala ceremonies.

Stone concerns the push-and-pull between a retiring parole officer, Jack Mabry (De Niro), and a corn-rowed arsonist and accessory to murder, Gerald "Stone" Creeson (Norton), who has done eight years out of 10-to-15 in a Detroit penitentiary. The tight-lipped Jack appears to enjoy golf and not much else. He's unhappily married, and he has just lost his older brother—the person who, as Jack says in his eulogy, taught him how to "live right." He is, at least, respected at work. For his part, Stone will do anything to ensure his early release. He sends his equally manipulative wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), to make advances on Jack; sensing Jack will look kindly on a "reborn" convict, Stone goes shopping for faiths in the prison library.

He comes across a pamphlet, and an accompanying book, for something called "Zukangor," which Stone later describes to Jack as a striving, by way of chanting and listening, to become "God's tuning fork. ... But there's no priest or nothing. It's not like a religion. There's just this one dude named Arnold who's the Zuk-master." The Zukangor pamphlet later shows up in the hands of Jack's wife, Madylyn (Frances Conroy, in perpetual drunken tremor), who dismisses it as "junk mail." She nonetheless reads it aloud to Jack one night on the porch, as they sip their customarily enormous amounts of whiskey. "Did you know you started out as a stone?" she reads from a section of the New Agey pamphlet that describes the transmigration of souls, suggesting also why this particular message spoke to Stone in the first place. While Madylyn reads about the mineral stage of the soul, Curran cuts to what resemble actual rows of corn.

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Benjamin Mercer has written on film for The Village Voice, The New York Sun, The L Magazine, and Reverse Shot. He is a copy editor at Bookforum. More

He has also copyedited for two New York dailies: The New York Sun and amNewYork.

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