Director Donald Siegel’s 1971 film The Beguiled has always been one of the undiscovered classics of its decade in my humble opinion. In spite of the iconic Clint Eastwood getting top billing in the film, and the fact it was released during one of the most productive periods of the actor’s career, it’s the one Eastwood vehicle with which people aren’t familiar.
For the better part of the last twenty-five years since I first discovered it I’ve always mentioned it in conversation as being one of my favorites on Clint’s resume. This, of course, has usually been followed by a confused look by whoever happens to be on the opposite side of the conversation. As such, I’ve always thought it was a classic worth rediscovering.
When I first heard of celebrated director Sofia Coppola’s decision to remake the film last year, my initial reaction was a resounding cry of ‘Why?’ But then again, after some deliberation, I thought that maybe a female perspective on source material by a celebrated male author (Thomas Culinan) might not be such a bad idea. Boy, was I wrong.
Coppola has never been a favorite filmmaker of mine. I was in the minority in my dislike of her celebrated film Lost in Translation, and none of her subsequent films have changed my mind one iota. Coppola not only has directed this picture but also gets a screenwriting credit as well. That’s surprising considering how all of the female characters in the film are so poorly developed. Instead of fully fleshed out human beings they come across as caricatures, models of propriety and decorum but not much else.
The basic plot of the original novel and film adaptation has been retained almost note for note. If you’ve seen the original you’re certainly not going to find any surprises contained in this version so don’t expect them.
The story concerns a wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), stranded in the Deep South during the waning days of the Civil War. Amy (Oonar Lawrence), who happens to live at a nearby boarding school populated by women, discovers the wounded soldier during an afternoon trip to pick mushrooms. Amy assists in getting McBurney back to the school where the headmistress (Nicole Kidman) promptly fixes up his broken leg. A moral dilemma ensues as to whether he should be turned over to the Confederate soldiers or put to use at the school. For his part, McBurney takes note of the house full of lonely women and decides to use it to his advantage, which, of course, can’t end well. The film’s story is by its nature a methodically paced affair. That worked out okay for the original film due to the flashy directorial flourishes courtesy of filmmaker Don Siegel. Unfortunately, Coppola’s approach is so low key that when something finally happens at around the one-hour mark the audience has been almost lulled to sleep and probably won’t care. It’s a real disappointment for a remake with so much squandered potential.
The Beguiled is playing in Charlotte. Baby Driver is playing in Hickory.
Colin Farrell & Kirsten Dunst in The Beguiled
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