This is one of those movies that has a controversy attached, which is so completely irrelevant to, well, just about anything, that you almost wonder whether the studio just ginned it up because, well, it wasn’t going to do very well anyway. This movie made about $15M box, which puts it at about twice as successful as the 1971 original (which made a paltry $1.1M, which works out to about $7M adjusted for inflation). I’m not sure you can realistically draw much from such a comparison, but that won’t stop me, as you’ll see.
But first, the “controversy”: Apparently, Sofia Coppola said she didn’t want to remake this movie until she saw that there was an opportunity to tell it from the feminine POV. I’ve heard this as “she remade the movie with women in the male parts” but from what I can tell (I haven’t seen the original) there’s really no room for anyone other than the one male in the story. But there are a lot of perspectives—well, not a lot, only about two interesting ones—from which you could tell this story and she told it in a more (I guess) female-positive way.
There are not a lot of role models to be found in this film. Maybe Clint Eastwood is more of a heroic figure in the original but, I doubt it. I suspect that’s why it didn’t do very well.
Anyway, whatever she did, which I feel confident was Sofia Coppola doing what Sofia Coppola wanted and not part of some larger political agenda, it met with protest amongst Social Justice Warriors who took her to task for making it all about white Women. Of course, had she thrown in any women of color, SJWs would then complain because she was co-opting the voices of women-of-color. And so on.
More importantly, however, given that this is a story of a Union corporal named McBurney who finds himself recuperating in a girls’ school after a grave injury, using women of color would’ve been, well, interesting if not entirely authentic.
Coppola’s best choice, probably, was putting Colin Farrell in the McBurney (Clint Eastwood) role. Farrell is not much like Eastwood, and he has a glib charm and volatility which is hard to see as part of the Eastwood persona. (Actually, I’d say one of the best things about this movie is it put me in mind to see the original.) And with that part of the movie aside, we can really focus on what’s going on here without constantly comparing to the original.
The tension comes at first from the “Well, if we turn him over, they’ll put him in a camp and he’ll die from his wounds.” So the ladies have to essentially betray their countrymen in order to keep him alive. But this quickly turns into an attraction between him and Edwina, the old maid of the house (Kirsten Dunst, who is actually pretty plausible in the role). Although we’re never really clear to what extent this attraction McBurney is feigning his attraction to Edwina because he sees her as a potentially useful patsy to fall back on when things get rough.
Nicole Kidman plays Miss Martha, the house matron and, well, I’ll allow it. She can do cold-blooded with an underlying current of passion better than most, and that’s front-and-center here, as she is also attracted to McBurney. Ellie Fanning rounds out the adult players as Alicia, who’s what you might call a “difficult girl”. Or, you might, from another perspective, call her an “easy girl”.
Well, you see the problems inherent in this situation, I trust.
The movie quickly devolves into that most reviled of genres, Southern Gothic. OK, maybe I’m the only one who hates it, but I really don’t like it much at all. It’s horror without the fun. It’s more the horrible than genuine horror. It’s wallowing in human decadence.
I kind of liked the movie nonetheless. I’ve noticed that Sofia’s father has had a strong influence on the way she lights and blocks shots, and that’s not a bad thing. She gets good performances from her people, too—again, much like her father. But she always seems to have her own, highly personal vision of what she’s doing. Her voice is very clearly her own, in other words. That’s a good thing.
I was actually stuck in Santa Monica after dropping The Flower off at the beach when I saw this. I wanted to go to see Jodorowky’s new movie but it was all the way over on the other side of Santa Monica, about 5 miles from where I was. And that 5 miles was going to take a half-an-hour to do, by which time I would’ve been late. Which, perhaps wouldn’t have matter with Jodorowsky. Still, I probably enjoyed this more.