By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY John Curran
STARS Robert De Niro, Edward Norton
Has Robert De Niro been replaced by a pod person straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Once a national treasure, the workaholic actor hasn't delivered a truly noteworthy performance since Clinton was in the Oval Office. Instead, aside from the occasional jokey turn (e.g. Machete, Stardust), he's basically relegated himself to somnambular, paycheck-cashing bits that betray the extent of his considerable talents. There's an obvious difference between elegant underplaying and merely going through the motions, and while, say, Michael Caine still excels at the former, De Niro has sadly become a master of the latter.
In Stone, he plays Jack Mabry, a parole officer whose last case before his retirement is a tough guy nicknamed Stone (Edward Norton). After eight years of prison, Stone wants out, and he involves his sultry wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) in his dealings with Jack. That of course translates into her carrying on an affair with the lawman, who otherwise spends his off-duty hours at home with his neglected, unloved wife (Frances Conroy).
Both Jack and Stone are seeking some form of spiritual salvation, and it's this added layer of complexity that paradoxically elevates the movie even as it's dooming it. Scripter Angus MacLachlan clearly has a lot on his mind in addition to the characters' soul-searching, the film also hopes to show how the respectable parole officer is as morally bankrupt as the incarcerated criminal but everything about the film remains doggedly murky and unconvincing, from its players' motives to a fizzle of a finale that has already dissipated from memory. A failed attempt at something meaningful, Stone sinks under the weight of its own poorly realized ambitions.