Film Review: ‘The Beguiled’ is a Flawless Execution from Sofia Coppola

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Touted with suspense and riveting performances from its cast, Sofia Coppola‘s “The Beguiled” stands alone as the single best film of 2017 so far, and the crowning jewel of the director’s career.  The film is packed with stunning imagery, an engaging story, and a skillful eye to capture emotions and complex ideas from its themes.

Based on the 1971 remake of the same name, the film is reinvented, showcasing towering performances from Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning.  If justice truly exists, this is a main contender for the SAG Ensemble prize in 2018, blazing a clear path to Oscar recognition.  It’s the best film to date from Sofia Coppola.  Before the bows and arrows are positioned in my direction, likely all etched with films like “Lost in Translation” and perhaps “The Virgin Suicides” on them, full disclosure: I’m not the “biggest” fan of either of her previous efforts.  This is the first from her that has pulled me fully onboard.

“The Beguiled” tells the story of John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier that is taken in by a girls’ school in Virginia where they have sheltered from the outside world and war.  Led by the head of the school Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), sexual tension, rivalries, and unexpected events take place surrounding all involved.

On the heels of some of the finest work of her career yet in outings like “Lion” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Nicole Kidman is a tangible force, cementing any doubt that she is one of our most treasured gifts to acting. Echoing the likes of a veteran actress like Maggie Smith, a role that would seem fitting for someone like her, Kidman has just laid herself at the feet of any potential awards voters, daring them to not recognize her brilliance.  Ditto goes to the work of Colin Farrell, who has shown incredible range in films like “In Bruges” and “The Lobster,” has slowly climb the ranks as a dependable participant in any film he touches.

Kirsten Dunst, hitting her stride early on, is likely the most tangible arc, and sympathetic of any of the women in the film.  She encapsulates a heartbreaking woman, aching for escape and happiness with a man, no matter the consequences.  If there’s a strong Academy Award prospect from the movie, you’d be remiss if you didn’t have Dunst on your longlist of spoilers this season.

One of the greatest tragedies of the year will be if and when Elle Fanning doesn’t have her named call at every single nominations announcement.  This was a child actor, hinting at greatness in films like “Super 8” and “20th Century Women.”  She now has surpassed any idea that she was “just a child actor” and has emerged as a talent to watch and glorify.  She doesn’t just look good while she does it, she looks like she’s having the time of her life, not taking herself too seriously, and consciously enjoying every breath of her lines.  Fanning is just a dream.

Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, nominated in 2014 for “The Grandmaster,” frames the film with such confidence and balance, echoing the film’s overarching theme of liberation and fantasy.  Another impeccable example of his abilities as a DP, and something that he should undoubtedly find himself in contention for this coming awards season.  Same should be said for editor Sarah Flack, best known for her past contributions to Coppola’s films like “The Bling Ring” and “Somewhere,” draws out scenes of anxiety and doubt, never wavering from the audience for any cheap thrills or fan service.  It’s a superb craft effort.

Coppola’s direction can be compared to many dark, and dour films from the likes of Bennett Miller, Mary Herron, or The Coen Brothers.  She lives and relishes in a world, split by war and fear, and develops a rich and dynamic set of characters that want so much more than what they are dealt.  A magnificent directorial force of nature that we are lucky to have witnessed.

The Beguiled” is just about perfect in every cinematic way.

“The Beguiled” is currently in theaters and is distributed by Focus Features.

GRADE: (★★★)

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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.