2017. Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Sofia Coppola’s latest effort is an atmospheric pressure cooker steeped in sexual innuendo and madness. Fusing the Confederate origins of the original film with a Gothic, dreamlike presentation, The Beguiled presents a simplistic narrative of erotic vendetta that is enhanced with magnetic performances and ghostly cinematography that present a female focused incarnation of the iconic source material.
Wounded Union soldier John McBurney finds respite at a Southern academy for young women. In a crumbling manse enshrouded by Spanish moss, a dangerous game of amorous deceit plays out amidst a backdrop of a nation devouring itself. Coppola’s script trims every possible amount of fat from an already slim narrative to keep everything focused on the characters. Colin Farrell delivers another terrific performance as a lecherous victim of circumstance whose uses every possible advantage to ensure not only personal safety, but an unspeakable possibility. Nicole Kidman gives a restrained performance as the school’s headmistress that is the perfect counter, embodying a fierce protective spirit of lethal maternity that is not only a product of a nation gone mad, but a pragmatic force to be reckoned with.
Kirsten Dunst gives an interesting turn as the school’s fractured teacher. She balances unrepentant desire and rigid etiquette with remarkable ease, bringing an intriguing angle to the social complexities on display. Elle Fanning does adequate work with what she’s given, however the narrative moves so quickly that the devious personalities often don’t have enough to develop and as a result, her performance suffers. This is a minor flaw that is quickly forgotten as the quiet nightmare of McBurney’s ordeal plays out in the mist. Stacey Battat’s period costume design is flawless, encasing each character in outfits that mirror the gender inequalities and high fashion of the time perfectly, which does an outstanding job are supporting each of the characters’ moments in the spotlight.
Philippe Le Sourd’s ethereal cinematography is the film’s strongest element. Beautiful wide shots of the exterior are sprinkled throughout, contrasting intrusive close-ups that dominate the bulk of the movie. Natural lighting is used whenever possible and Coppola’s intimate understanding of the material is always reflected in the muted imagery, perfectly emulating the fable-like story on display. This is made possible by understated editing and a haunting score by Phoenix that keep everything close to the chest.
In theaters now, The Beguiled is an excellent addition to Sofia Coppola’s woefully small filmography. While the final act undoes the terse foundations of the preceding acts, the cathartic release is well earned, if a tad uneven. If you’re interested a whispered passion play that explores gender politics and spins a harrowing tale of revenge, this will not disappoint.