Prior to seeing any movie at a theater these days, we’re all forced to sit through anywhere from 6 to 8 previews. And if you go to the movies as often as I do, you end-up watching the same trailers over and over again – to the point where every edit and line of dialogue is memorized. Such was the case with “The Beguiled”. I’d seen the film’s two trailers at least a dozen times in the past five months.
Some trailers show you just enough to peak your interest. Far too many give away way too much. It turns out “The Beguiled” trailers divulged EVERYTHING. There isn’t a single element of director Sofia Coppola’s period drama that isn’t shown in the 2 1/2-minute 2nd trailer.
Coppola stages “The Beguiled” (which is based on a 1966 novel and is a remake of a ’71 film starring Clint Eastwood) in a slow, deliberate fashion. The thin story is stretched to its limit in order to achieve the 90-minute runtime. With so little to work with it’s no wonder the producers of that trailer had to use everything at their disposal. But to say the preview is a “spoiler” would be the understatement of the movie year.
Colin Farrell takes on the Eastwood role of Corporal John McBurney. The story is set in 1864 Virginia, three years into The Civil War. A young girl named Amy (Oona Laurence from “Southpaw” and “Pete’s Dragon”) discovers the wounded Union soldier in the woods while picking mushrooms outside the gates of a school for girls where she lives. She takes McBurney back to the school, and to Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), the head mistress.
Martha and assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) take care of five girls, including Amy, the violin-playing Jane (“The Nice Guys” breakout actress Angourie Rice) and the adolescent of the group, Alicia (played by Elle Fanning). The Southerners are initially suspicious of John, but Miss Martha decides he can stay until he recovers from his injury. Immediately each of the other females, in their own way (some innocently, others not) begins to seek the soldier’s attention. This component feels very forced.
The best scenes in “The Beguiled” are when Kidman and Farrell are alone together. The stern Martha initially proclaims that she wants John to leave as soon as he’s physically able. But soon even she begins to warm-up to him. Since the Corporal deserted his troops during battle, he has nowhere else to go. So he does his best to prove to Martha that he’s a good guy and can add value by staying-on at the school. These scenes provide the film’s only legitimate drama.
In the meantime, John secretly begins romancing one of the other residents. And another has her eyes on him. And maybe even Martha wants to get into the competition. Here’s when “The Beguiled” becomes somewhat of a 19th Century version of “The Bachelor.” Only problem is, Coppola doesn’t go far enough with sexual tension to craft the type of intricate, juicy psychological thriller she intended to make.
The film does have a striking, period piece look and feel, though many shots are held for an overly-dramatic effect. Frankly, the borderline haunting cinematography is the most impressive aspect of “The Beguiled”.
Miss Martha believed the lessons learned by having this man in their home will help the young girls later in life. I’m not sure what messages we’re able to take away from “The Beguiled”, except that being The Bachelor during Civil War times was anything but rosey.
Far from beguiling, On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Beguiled” gets a C.
Running Time: 93 min.