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Great performances can't save this picture

Stone: Rates a D.
Courtesy photo

There’s an early scene in Stone when Robert De Niro and Edward Norton are arguing over a desk in a jail. That scene alone is almost worth the price of admission.

And before I go on praising the two male leads -- former super-model Milla Jovovich and Frances Conroy -- bring some great acting chops to the party as well.

It’s just a shame the first half is so enjoyable, and the second half ultimately ruins the picture.

One of the things I love when De Niro is questioning someone in a movie (like in the underrated Copland), is that it appears you can see the wheels turning in his head; just by the look in his eyes. In this movie, they have a few close-ups of his eyes, or Norton’s hair (in corn rows), that are interesting.

There’s a scene where Norton’s character has this religious epiphany, and his voice has to change (as he’s no longer talking like a thug…or, the cadence isn’t so strong). Some critics have misinterpreted this to mean that Norton was just faking his “born again” status, to get on De Niro’s good side. It’s bizarre they don’t get that the character really did change, as we see the moment when he does change (hearing a sound and seeing a deer mural on the wall), and he spends other times meditating (away from De Niro) and observing nature. Heck, even his crazy wife no longer likes the person he’s become.

But what could’ve been interesting dialogue about theology, only has small doses of interest. The narrative is just lacking.

The fact that one character finds God, and one stops believing; one becomes a better person, one a worse person – that’s interesting stuff. It makes the craziness that happens later in the film a big mess.

It’s a shame, because Norton would easily get an Oscar nomination if the movie would’ve been better (Val Kilmer suffered the same fate with The Doors).

And don’t even get me started on the logic of a parole officer/prison employee being listed in the phone book, or a house burning down (the day an arsonist is released from prison), and about 10 other hokey things.

(And in the future, if Robert De Niro opens his trunk in the middle of a corn field – we want him taking a body out of there, not golf clubs.)

Jesus saves, but couldn’t save this film.

It gets a D.