By Brad Haynes
★1/2 out of ★★★★
If you’re familiar with the original film version of The Beguiled, released in 1971 and starring Clint Eastwood with direction by Donald Siegel (who that same year would direct the drastically different and supremely iconic Dirty Harry), you are probably expecting a fairly suspenseful film of a wounded Union soldier doing everything he can to survive while hiding out in the feminine confines of a girl’s school in the Confederate south.
You would also probably be expecting something somewhat similar after watching the new film’s trailer. Expertly edited, you can sense the tension as Corporal John McBurney (here played nicely by a striking Colin Farrell) manipulates the women around him, but not exactly successfully.
Unfortunately, the new version of The Beguiled, as written and directed by Sofia Coppola, lacks any sense of suspense or tension and is ultimately tediously dull.
An opening scene, which shows a young girl out picking mushrooms before stumbling upon the injured soldier in the woods, is gorgeous to look at (cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd makes beautiful use of natural lighting all the way through) but deadly dull.
Little picks up once the injured soldier enters the school run by Miss Martha (a properly stoic Nicole Kidman). Making matters worse is the decision to not use a score for the majority of the film, leaving many scenes with nothing more than ambient noise. Once a semblance of a soundtrack does kick in toward the film’s end, it’s little more than a droning sound.
Along with Miss Martha at the school are the one teacher, Edwina (a dowdy Kirsten Dunst), and the students who remain at the school with no place else to go during wartime. One of these students is Alicia (Elle Fanning), a young lady slowly discovering her sexuality and her sway over men like McBurney.
It gives little away to say that by the film’s end, McBurney’s presence has stirred major jealousies amongst the film’s three female protagonists, and his plan to use the women any way he can will not end well for McBurney. Unfortunately, his relationships with all of these women seem to come from out of the blue, with little build up, and end up being quite unbelievable.
Much has been made of Coppola’s take on the source material, throwing the emphasis on the women of the house (Coppola picked up the Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival), but none of it is revelatory.
Truth be told, The Beguiled played more like a comedy at the screening I attended, with the audience laughing throughout at scenes which were clearly not intended to be funny. Nervous laughter? Maybe. But it was a clear sign that the desired effect that Coppola and her talented cast were aiming for fell extremely short of the mark. The Beguiled will quickly become buried beneath the rubble of the summer movie season. The far superior original, meanwhile, can currently be found on demand on HBO.
Good: The cinematography is gorgeous, and the acting, particularly that of Kidman and Farrell, is first rate.
The Bad: Poorly paced and quite frankly boring at times, the film lacks the vitality of the original.
Final Word: If you’re a fan of the original Clint Eastwood film you will probably want to see it, but be warned that it pales in comparison.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning. Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rated R for some sexuality