Seduction and manipulation in a Civil War setting.
The Beguiled is a remake that has been redone by director Sofia Coppola, who is a bit of a divisive director. This is the first film of hers that I will critique, but I have seen others. People seem to be fairly set in their opinions about her style, so I imagine that a +/- 2 on the score should probably be expected from you if you already know your feelings.
One thing that I think Coppola does quite well is making films look great. The setting and lighting is simply fantastic. There is a sense of wonder and majesty in many of the scenes. The boarding school feels very much alive even though we don’t get as much back story as one might want. Coppola has a strong stylistic eye, and this has always, in my opinion, been a strong suit of her films.
Beguiled tells the tale of a Union soldier John (Colin Farrell) who is wounded and lost when he is brought to a boarding school where the matriarch Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) patches up his wound. John is charming and immediately begins flirting with and developing friendships with many of the women. Most notably Edwina (Kirtsen Dunst) and becomes the object of infatuation by Alicia (Elle Fanning). John bonds with the other young women, but it is these three who become the focus of his desires and their desires for him.
As the story rolls along, it becomes clear that each these women desire something from John (primarily sex or escape), and we begin to see a competition and breakdown of the ecosystem within the school. The acting is great. I think Farrell proves that he can wear many hats in this and is charming, obnoxious, and infuriating to the viewer in a great way. Kidman and Dunst are given much more screen time than Fanning, so their performances stand out a bit more.
We have a well acted and well shot tale of romantic intrigue, so the movie must be great, right?
I haven’t seen the original film in probably fifteen years, but this one added nothing new. In fact, a lot of the backstories are cropped in this new one. The remake comes in at a lean 90 minutes, which doesn’t give us enough time to really get into the heads of the people. The shortness of the movie also causes a bit of issue with the pacing.
However, the real problems of this film come from the idea that Coppola was going to somehow retell this story from a feminist perspective—she didn’t. The film is anti-feminist if it is anything. The introduction of a male causes all of the women to lose control of themselves. I mean, you don’t have to be a scholar in the field to notice how this is somewhat problematic.
The movie doesn’t really do anything. We get a nice to look at, but otherwise shallow experience that comes to a predictable and hollow end. I think this is where Coppola becomes so divisive. She tightly controls the scenes (and they do look great), but this controlling aspect doesn’t allow the characters to breath. We instead get contained narratives that relentlessly push towards their singular point. There isn’t a lot of room for interpretation because everything is so nailed down that any nuance is pushed aside. If you want to look at the visual craft, you might find something to enjoy here. Otherwise, let is pass. 4/10.