Review: The Beguiled
Corsets do a funny thing. They wrap around the body and pull everything in so tight that there is little room for movement. The result is a look that is equal parts constrained and trim. And when corsets and slimmed figures appear it the movie, I couldn't help but notice the similarities to the film as a viewing experience. The ride Sophia Coppola wants to take us on is so structured and ultimately reserved that it feels as if she is in total control throughout. Regardless of where you come out on the film or some of the narratives surrounding it, Coppola's craftsmanship is on full display. The result is a cool sterile serum with just enough crowd pleasing moments to satiate the audience's thirst.
This film is a remake of a 1971 film by the same title and is ultimately fairly simple. Set in 1864 Virginia, the American Civil War is the central backdrop. Martha Farnsworth (played by Nicole Kidman) runs a girls' school with just a few students and one other teacher remaining. When one of the girls happens upon a wounded Confederate soldier named Corporal John McBurney (played by Colin Ferrell) and brings him back to the school, she sets off a series of events that challenge Ms. Farnsworth and the other ladies to think quickly.
The schools other teacher (played by Kirsten Dunst) is a young lady who once lived a more big-city life. When McBurney shows up, sparks fly between the two as he tries to convince her to leave the school when he recovers from his injuries. When McBurney winds up in bed with a young student, things eventually spiral out of control as everyone in the school changes their mind about there now unwelcome guest.
When McBurney first arrives, he receives a somewhat icy reception that belies the attraction all of the women in the school feel. Even the very youngest start doing their hair differently and vying for his attention. For some, this period will probably be too long for their liking. Though the film never feels "slow," it does take a while for the events to reach the fever pitch they eventually do. And once that happens, the whole experience feels like it's over relatively quickly. At 94 minutes, the film is a welcomed rebuke of the longer runtimes that plague many films today, but it makes its ending feel somewhat rushed after the meandering first 80 minutes.
Ultimately, the film winds up being as much about the interactions among these women as it does the interactions between women and men. The ways they swing from harmony to competition and ultimately cooperation offer a fascinating meditation on the nature of being a woman. Every shot of Nicole Kidman's icy stare ratchets up the complexity of the character and eventually reaches a crescendo in an all-too-fun capstone scene. Though not nearly as ambitious as the film could have been had Coppola strived for more, the end result is richly rewarding and a valuable addition to the summer calendar.
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