The Beguiled is a title that may ring a bell. It’s not only a famed Civil War-set novel by Thomas Cullinan, but it’s a novel that’s been adapted to film once already. Clint Eastwood starred in the critically acclaimed adaptation back in 1971. Now, Coppola has taken the source material and weaved it into her own interpretation, doing her best to take as little influence from the original film as possible (there’s most noticeably a 15 minute runtime difference). The result is something special. It’s a dark, twisted and to-the-point movie that delves deep into its simple story through a slow, unnerving plot spiced up with a hint of humour and plenty of seduction.
Right from the get-go, you’re thrown straight into the action, but all suspense from thereon out moves at a snail’s pace. This is a film all about misperceptions, sexual encounters and endless tension, both romantic and otherwise. Coppola’s tight screenplay allows plenty of time to establish the protagonist’s relations, each played excellently by an enormous, talented cast. Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman are all attracted to McBurney in their own way. They sneak into his room, give him longing stares, or, in one instance, internally debate the morals of whether or not to clean his nether region while unconscious. It creates a rivalry, turning McBurney’s unexpected heavenly situation into the pits of hell. A lot of the second act feels like it isn’t heading in any sort of direction, but the build up pays off during the eventual turning point.
Colin Farrell brings vigour and viciousness to a once-peaceful home, and he delivers a powerful, haunting and game changing performance. His character lingers between villain and victim. I found my opinion on him constantly torn, as he goes from complimenting the freshly picked mushrooms to throwing a turtle across the room (yes, that happens) and yelling at the top of his lungs “you vengeful bitches!” The way he plays off the other actors is sublime, always full of sly innuendos, but wouldn’t be nearly as great without the perfectly infectious supporting cast. Everybody in this movie, as few people as there are, give it their absolute all. Nicole Kidman especially is often chilling to watch. She’s able to give the subtlest of expressions and elevate an otherwise lackluster character into something endlessly compelling.
Still, its Coppola’s directing that brings the whole thing home. The Beguiled, amongst other things, is a wondrous display of fine filmmaking. With six movies and a Netflix special behind her, Coppola shows no signs of decreasing in quality. I want to say she’ll never reach the heights of Lost in Translation, but never say never. Each film of hers continues to deliver, Netflix special notwithstanding, and her craftsmanship as a director is impeccable. The Civil War setting allows for not just big, impressive sets and costumes, but also enchanting camera work hidden under sinister undertones. She places you right into this world, and it’s a world I didn't want to leave.
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