The Beguiled (2017)

The Beguiled (2017) Cover

The Beguiled is an example of technical film making that is too restrained. There is a lot to like here if you set your expectations right, and it would have been more enjoyable if the advertising had matched the product. Director Sofia Coppola captures a slow rhythm that produces palpable environments. This blossoms in a way that I appreciate. The cast delivers performances that reinforce this sense of texture, too. I can even praise the story for having believable character choices.

Like a model work of fiction, the action of each character drives the plot forward. It’s important that their behaviors make sense. Even when we don’t agree with their choices, the audience needs to understand them. The Beguiled excels at this. As a thriller, it uses this series of events and makes the outcome inevitable. When it reaches the climax, The beguiled clearly couldn’t have ended any other way. I love it when a plot captures that sense of inevitability. Unfortunately, the plot is too straightforward.

Where this breaks down, is that there’s no sense of voice. The lead role, Miss Martha, is too even headed. It never once feels like she makes a decision out of weakness, selfishness, or spite. This restraint of character action keeps the movie from saying anything interesting. By being too rational, the conflict feels one-sided, and some tension gets lost. One of the selling points of The Beguiled is the idea of a man becoming the victim of women whom he has wronged, but he never feels like a victim.

Had there even been a hint that spite drove Miss Martha’s decisions, the story would have gained a wealth of depth. I cannot say whether the narrative or the directing omitted these needed elements, but it definitely wasn’t the acting. Nicole Kidman commands the lead role of Miss Martha. She leads the way in experience and poise, stealing the show. Colin Farrell delivers an entertaining performance, though he is one of the problems. He is too unlikable to sympathize with.

His cowardice, judgement, and insincerity feel greasy from nearly the beginning. These characteristics bloom in response to the misfortunes that befall his character, Corporal McBurney. Each injury pulls more insecurity and aggression from within Corporal McBurney. Colin Farrell pulls this off, but it’s too much, and his performance makes those tragedies feel justified. Necessary, even. If either Miss Martha had been less sympathetic or Corporal McBurney more so, then The Beguiled would have felt more meaningful.

The real saving grace here is the scene construction. Our eyes get to linger on the landscape. Sofia gives us time to soak in the subtle day to day life in this place. Isolated country roads that echo the warm melodies of a softly-hummed tune transport you to a different time, and a different place. As a dramatic period piece, The Beguiled excels. I get the impression that Sofia was trying to make something deeper than that, though, and it doesn’t work.

The Beguiled doesn’t deliver on the promise of an indulgent revenge film, but I liked what I got. It’s worth watching for its luxurious ambiance, meticulous plot construction, and compelling acting. Not a must see film, but if you’re in the mood for that kind of slow burning period piece and only have an hour and a half, it will scratch that itch beautifully.

Final Verdict:Too restrained to accomplish its goals, The Beguiled still delivers an enjoyable character-driven drama.