“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?! YOU VENGEFUL BITCHES!”
Going down in history as one of the greatest trailer lines. I’ll be quoting that for months. I’m saying it right now, if Colin Farrell ain’t on a bed with his arms and legs chopped off by the end of this movie, I’m going to be a little sad.
So there’s a little history with this film. Apparently, it was originally a novel, and had another adaptation way back in 1971 starring Clint Eastwood. I’ve neither read the book nor seen, or even heard of, the film prior to this. I can only say how sad that makes me because this movie looks sexy, fun, and freaky as hell.
It looks like it’s about a southern family, a mother and her, what, five, six daughters, who takes in an enemy soldier who seems kindly enough at first, but then starts putting the moves on at least two of the daughters, and then the family starts plotting their vengeful bitchy ways against him.
Let’s take a look at this star studded cast. Starring as the next gen Eastwood is the awesome Irishman, Colin Farrell (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM , SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS , IN BRUGES , and Disney’s upcoming live-action remake, DUMBO ), the infinitely gorgeous Aussie and long-time personal crush, Nicole Kidman (LION , PADDINGTON , BATMAN FOREVER , and DC’s upcoming AQUAMAN ), and the criminally underappreciated Kirsten Dunst (HIDDEN FIGURES , HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE THEM , and SPIDER-MAN ). As for the younger and equally exciting talent, we have Elle Fanning (THE NEON DEMON , THE BOXTROLLS , SUPER 8 , and the upcoming animated LEAP! ), Oona Laurence (PETE’S DRAGON , BAD MOMS , SOUTHPAW , and the upcoming sequel A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS ), Angourie Rice (THE NICE GUYS  and the upcoming SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING ), and Addison Rieche (TV show THE THUNDERMANS).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Sofia Coppola, known for THE BLING RING (2013), MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), and LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003). Composing the score is… I believe Phoenix. They’re a French rock band, but their credit on IMDb is weird. It reads “music by: based on Monteverdis Magnificat.” So… original work, or based on previously published work? I have no idea. Finally, the cinematographer is Philippe Le Sourd, known for SEVEN POUNDS (2008).
Overall, I’m looking forward to this one. It looks like it’s going to be so much fun. The worst thing it can do is not be as disturbing and messed up as it looks.
This is my honest opinion of: THE BEGUILED
Set in 1864, in Virginia during the Civil War. Young Amy (Oona Laurence) finds a wounded Union Irish soldier named Corporal John McBurney (Collin Farrell). Out of the kindness of her heart, she brings him back to her all-female boarding, headed by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), who tends to his wounds with the intention of sending him on his way when he recovers. But as the girls become more familiar with him, and even fellow teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) becomes infatuated with him, sexual tension arises that has brutal consequences.
I’m… somewhat conflicted.
Alright, well right out of the gate, I do like the film. I can’t say I’m familiar with Sofia Coppola’s skills as a director. I’ve sure heard of her films. Some have been great (LOST IN TRANSLATION), some not so good (THE BLING RING), but she seems to be more celebrated as a director, not an actor. I can definitely see why… er, the good directing thing, I mean. The mere opening shot of the film is dripping with atmosphere and all it is: panning down slowly from a web of tree branches while Laurence is humming a pleasant tune. No score, just her humming. It’s mildly haunting, yet still innocent. I was fascinated before a single character was featured.
I’d also like to take a minute to gush about the younger actors, specifically Laurence and Fanning. Laurence is one of my favorite young actors today, maybe even moreso than Fanning, who I really enjoy as well. But I think my bias comes from that Laurence has been in more adult titles than Fanning, proving her talent in both drama and comedy, whereas the other spent a vast majority of her pre-teen career in family-friendly films that are by no means bad, and have certainly escalated her to a well-earned more recognizable name, but her shift to darker and more intense films is still a little jarring, not being able to see that million dollar smile of hers. Let me be clear, I’m not comparing or contrasting their talent, I’m just rambling on their careers. Both actresses are wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy that they share a movie together. In fact, I’ll do myself one better, I hope they act together again in the future. These two young ladies are powerhouses of talent and if the story focused on them, I know it would be amazing. Laurence and Fanning in this film are worth the price of admission alone. Laurence is so cute as Amy, the one with a huge schoolgirl crush on John and is the one who quickly sees the best in him and is even pretty protective. And Fanning as Alicia is a slut! Okay, that’s mean. She’s a young woman who has an attitude problem and despite her strong dislike of Union soldiers develops strong sexual feelings for the older man.
Sadly, the other girls don’t get as much development and even sort of blend into each other. I remember young Rice stealing the show in THE NICE GUYS, and when I saw that she was in this, it only added to my excitement in seeing it. Unfortunately, her character, and therefore her talent, is underutilized. In fact, Jane is so bland a character, same with Emily (Emma Howard), I almost got the two mixed up. Maybe as a Hispanic dude, I can’t tell the difference between one skinny teen blond from another, but their personalities were so dull that I couldn’t tell the difference. The only remaining young actress that actually did stand out was Rieche, but only slightly moreso. She has one scene that was hilarious. After a day or so in the care of these women, John is resting in his room and Marie comes in with a tiny Bible to give him. Basically, the banter goes something like:
I wanted to give this to you last night, in case
you were at death’s doorstep. But I figured it
wouldn’t do you much good, since you were already
I fell in love with that backhanded concern. It’s just a shame that there’s no other scene quite like that again with either Marie, Jane, or Emily. There’s obviously nothing wrong with anyone’s performances. It just feels like certain characters were only there to round out the cast rather than to give them a distinct personality and strong contributors to the plot.
But now would be a great opportunity to shift focus to the veteran actors. Nicole God-damned Kidman. To think, this woman once announced that she would be retiring from acting after having a series of box office and critical blunders. But then someone had fire lit under their asses and gave her some movies that really showcased her staying power because Kidman is a freakin’ knock out once again. As Martha, she is always calm and collected. She remains so focused on making sure that John isn’t going to stick around longer than need be. Yet, like everyone else, she does come to admire the man and see his qualities when he’s well enough to walk around and do some help around the school. I may not be able to quote anything, but I do enjoy the scenes where they’re sitting down and drinking brandy together. Two adults on opposite sides of a war finding ways to be civil and polite. It’s really interesting to watch.
Mister Farrell. Ugh, I’m a flaming heterosexual, but the amount of charm this man has is enough to make my knees quiver. I love John and his interactions with all the women in the house. With Martha, he’s a refined gentleman. With Edwina, he’s a romantic. With Amy, he’s a best friend. With Alicia… he’s a cradle-robbing skank bag. No matter who he’s interacting with, the individual or the group, he’s always grateful and friendly, and the fondness and trust they eventually place on him seems well-earned.
There’s more to say about the characters, specifically Dunst as Edwina, but I’ll tackle that later as it gets pretty spoilery.
I went on and on about the acting, mostly because this is a very character-driven story. The story itself is fairly straightforward. A Union soldier is begrudgingly treated in a Confederate women’s boarding school where the women and younger girls develop a fondness for him. One becomes romantically interested in him, one, sexually. This ultimately clashes and things don’t end well for our Irish soldier. It works for the most part as the relationships are forged, albeit a slow churn to get the plot underway. Really, the crux of the movie is how invested you are in the interactions between the women of the house and John. The juicy stuff that this movie’s marketing loves to showcase really doesn’t happen until the final third of the movie.
So let’s get to that, and sadly, this is also where I had the most problems with the movie.
So it’s been established that John and Edwina are romantically interested in each other and Alicia is interested in John sexually, which he doesn’t resist against. Of course, on the eve of John’s departure from the house, Edwina catches John in bed with Alicia. Nothing graphic, but the implication is obvious and as John tries to calm Edwina down and downplay his actions, she pushes him away from he when he tries to hold her and accidentally pushes him down a flight of stairs. He’s rendered unconscious and his previously wounded leg, which was nearly healed, as been broken. Because Martha has no proper medical training, her only option is to amputate John’s leg. When John comes to, that’s when his famous trailer line comes in and for the rest of the movie, he is full-on hostile, deranged, and savage.
Here’s my problem with this. For two-thirds of the story, John is portrayed as a grateful man as he is treated more than fairly in the house, given food, alcohol, everything that he’d need to properly recover outside of a hospital. He knows that and simply makes nice with everyone, leading to positive relations with the ladies, for better or worse. But he knows what he did when he was in bed with Alicia. He ought to have known that Edwina wouldn’t have taken kindly to the actions. An unfaithful man knows to never touch the woman he wronged. Getting pushed down the stairs, debatable whether he deserved it or not, was still an accident and a foreseeable outcome of the given situation. So when he wakes up to find his leg missing, his initial hostility is perfectly understandable. Even as a little time goes on, one could easily see from his perspective that the amputation was a vengeful ploy for his transgressions. But being bed-ridden for awhile, he’d eventually had to have come to terms that it was because his leg was broken in a way that Martha, who is not a surgeon, would not have been able to properly fix and it’s not like the house is near any hospitals, so she had to make a choice that ultimately saved his life. But John’s foregoes all of his previously established understanding and kindness and becomes more animalistic, treating every woman like crap, even the ones that had nothing to do with anything. In fact, when he yells at Amy and throws her pet turtle when she tries to calm him down, he becomes irredeemable when he yells at her and throws her turtle. By which point, of course the women plot to kill him.
These plotlines make sense, of course, but my issue is that John’s transition into the asshole that he becomes is a little too rushed. His good-natured personality took time for the women to accept and eventually won them over, but a situation that he, by all accounts, put himself in, and suddenly everything is their fault? I didn’t buy that. While the first two-thirds of the story moves slowly, you can argue they’re at least interested, and even amusing. But once this happens, we suddenly enter a different movie. That’s the only thing I didn’t agree with: John’s transition from an overly kind and understanding man to a mad dog.
About the only kind thing I can say is how wonderful Dunst is. While much of her character is flat and uninteresting at first, we learn that Edwina’s just as sick of the war as anyone else is. She’s tired of being in that school and wants to be taken away and John seems like he wants to do that for her. You see the hope in her eyes and can almost feel the love between the two characters. When Edwina pushes John down the stairs leading to his amputation, she’s racked with guilt and clearly blames herself for his eventual behavior, hoping that sleeping with him and letting him have his way with her will calm him down. Arguably, that’s exactly what happens, but he’s killed by the other women before he gets a chance to redeem himself. The final shots with Dunst are spectacular. She’s staring blankly in the distance and you can just feel the heartache, the relief, the disappointment, and fear of what the future may hold for her. It’s a haunting shot with her, but it’s beautifully executed.
Overall, this is a good movie. I love the relationship building and acting, which is where your love or dislike of the movie will come from, as it is a slow burn to get to where the movie needs to go to get really interesting. Despite its flaws, especially toward the end, it’s an interesting movie and I do encourage audiences to give it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of the cast like I am. It’s gripping, it makes you squirm, and it’s worth every minute.
My honest rating for THE BEGUILED: 4/5