Prepare to see Robert De Niro like you’ve rarely seen him before…or will ever want to again…in Stone, the most recent film from director John Curran. Jack Mabry (a lifeless Robert De Niro) is a parole officer days from retirement. His final case, Gerald “Stone” Creeson (a near-perfect Edward Norton), has served 8 years for arson, and he is desperately hoping to get out and see his beautiful wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) again. The Creeson’s are so desperate, they plan for Lucetta to seduce Jack in order to sway his recommendation. When all is said and done, will Jack fall for the seductress or simply retire in peace?
While Stone won’t go down as a classic prison tale (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), it should forever be remembered for Edward Norton’s believable, nuanced performance as the corn-rowed, work-worn convict. Is he good, or just a lot? I don’t care. De Niro is dull and routine, much like Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, a similarly slow thriller. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) is very effective as the film’s femme fatale.
The intense and lively script, written by Angus MacLachlan (Junebug), is often brutally straightforward and inappropriate. It’s solid, but the story might make you tremble. An amazing story always sets itself up for rooting. While the protagonists and antagonists are sometimes the same character, Stone’s script and acting lets you take sides immediately, rooting for some characters and hating others. Frances Conroy, as Mabry’s wife Madylyn, is extremely effective at extracting pity from viewers. It’s a wonderful experience, as anyone who has seen such a movie knows. Cinematography is another of Stone’s successes, as it takes a dramatic, slow, personal angle and lets the camera make you feel like you’re right in Mabry’s office. The brilliant and stunning full-circle ending catches you off guard. It makes you think.
And now yous wise guys are gonna read my review of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, right? It’s tough, it’s slimy, and it’ll stomp your face in and not even blink. But there’s good news…Robert De Niro wears his Sunday best the whole time. Tough guys Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), and Tommy DeVito (a superb, Oscar-winning performance from Joe Pesci) have it all, then lose it all. It’s the classic blood-stained gangster tale. They live it up, keeping half the drugs they mean to sell, beating up punks just for giving them a glare, and taking a different girl to the Copacabana every night. But the feds are always just around the corner, waiting for them.
And Goodfellas does a fantastic job of keeping the audience hooked the entire time. I love this narration, and Goodfellas is full of it. The script is intimidating and aggressive. Based on the true-life story of one Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas tends to be glued to its novel roots a bit too much sometimes. It needed to finish the story, but did so at the expense of taking up half of everyone’s day.
With a better ensemble cast than The Godfather, Joe Pesci deserved any Oscar he could possibly receive. Ray Liotta isn’t around much anymore, but he sure was great back in the day. De Niro has a smaller role, but he’s great too. And the Italian/American supporting cast is wonderful, familiar, and relatable. Goodfellas is one of Martin Scorsese’s best. Not that he has slowed down or lost his touch.