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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Beguiled



In Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, Colin Farrell plays a lobster a rooster in a henhouse. It's 1864, four years into the Civil War, and in battle-torn Virginia, young Oona Lawrence finds Farrell injured in the woods. He's a Union soldier - an enemy combatant - but his leg is badly wounded and he's desperate. Christian charity demands Farrell be rescued; he becomes the unwilling house guest of Nicole Kidman, who runs a school for girls. The presence of Farrell, who quickly recovers and finds ways to make himself useful so he can be invited to stay, upends the careful but combustible order of this house of young women of immaculate repute. There is an electric spark of forbidden sex in the air with this randy soldier recuperating in the music room.

As Kidman, an eternally forlorn Kirsten Dunst, who is the second oldest woman at the school, and their five young charges, including Elle Fanning, fret and debate about their house guest, we wonder what Farrell's true intentions are. No doubt, he has no intention of returning to the war. He's brazen in his attempts to wile Kidman and especially Dunst, whom he seems to take the biggest shine to - and who hesitantly reciprocates the attraction. Meanwhile, Fanning proves herself as brazen as Farrell; she sneaks kisses with Farrell and secretly invites him into her room. When Dunst catches them, her reaction is devastating. She pushes Farrell down the stairs, breaking his injured leg beyond repair. Kidman utters the most ghastly line and provokes the biggest laugh in the movie: "Get me the hacksaw and the anatomy book!"

The Beguiled is shot with a painterly beautiful style and is directed with precision and restraint by Coppola. The performances are equally precise and restrained and justly so: we sense the undercurrent of farce in this parlor drama. The actors seem just a careful held breath away from exploding in giggles and hysterics at moments like Farrell hobbling around on crutches, holding all the women hostage at gunpoint. It doesn't occur to the women that they could easily overpower Farrell, especially in his diminished state, no matter how crazy he acts. Farrell on crutches suddenly develops B-movie killer abililies; he can suddenly appear from out of frame, and he can keep pace with and catch Lawrence, who can run like a sprite. It's ultimately no surprise that the women of The Beguiled come to the decision that they have to get rid of this guy. Almost missing from the final shot is a fade to an iris with the Looney Tunes theme playing -- "That's all, folks!"