Home Video:
The Beguiled
30 January 2018

¶ As Kathleen had a dinner date — strictly business — and I had a spot of ironing to do, I stopped by the Video Room after getting a haircut and rented The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle. I never saw the old movie, and I still don’t know why I wanted to see the new one, which I didn’t much enjoy. But I find that it has haunted me. What surprised me was the power of Colin Farrell’s performance. For the first half of the movie (roughly; more than that in fact), he does his cute little Irishman act, an untrustworthy rogue but nothing to worry about. Sometimes, especially in In Bruges, this works very well, but sometimes he just seems dim. 

But there’s nothing dim about the violent renegade who erupts at the climax, bellowing and crashing about his room, and then threatening the women, mostly girls, who have harbored him at the boarding school at which they’ve been marooned by the Civil War. Farrell’s corporal is as dangerous as a zizzing high-tension power line. Rage has scoured away every vestige of yes ma’am politeness, and notwithstanding his altered condition — he has lost a leg — he is not diminished. There is nothing remotely pitiful about him. I always think of Colin Farrell as a small-knit man; in The Beguiled, he demonstrates that size doesn’t matter. 

The oddest thing about this transformation is how it changes the weather around Nicole Kidman’s headmistress. Like the other two sexually mature woman in the house (played by Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning), she is unsettled by the wounded soldier’s masculine presence, but in her case this never leads to anything beyond badinage. Then the accident happens, and she finally makes her mind up about what to do about her unwonted guest. From that moment on, she reminded me of the delightfully but ruthlessly singleminded Ava at the end of Ex Machina

To top it all off — this strong residual memory — there’s the final shot, inspired by so many period photographs: the ladies and the girls assembled, most of them sitting, on the old mansion’s front porch, framed by fluted pillars. In their white muslin, they almost disappear into the woodwork, far most ghostly than the shrouded corpse stretched out in front of their gate. 

I said to Kathleen afterward, “Well, I won’t be buying that [on DVD].” Now, I’m not so sure.

 

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