Talk about the entrée not living up to the promise of the appetizer. Stone starts out with an absolutely nifty film noir premise: An uptight case worker with a few skeletons in his closet is seduced by the femme fatale wife of a manipulative inmate who’s hoping for early parole. Juicy, right? And when you consider that the sap is played by Robert De Niro, the wife is played by the sexy Milla Jovovich, and the con is played by the ever-compelling (if hammy) Edward Norton, you should be in movie heaven, right?
Well, I should’ve known that Stone had deeper, less pulpy things on its mind when director John Curran started doing artsy close-ups of buzzing bees and De Niro’s Jack and his put-upon wife (Frances Conroy) were always listening to a fire-and-brimstone-preaching radio station.
Nope, Stone isn’t really about the con—who’s double-crossing whom—but sin, God, and the possibility of redemption. So when Norton’s Stone starts buying into a Buddhism-type religion that advocates man’s perfect tonal harmony with the universe, he’s not faking it for Jack’s benefit. Or is he? The film strays so far from the noir tropes it set up so effectively in the beginning, I couldn’t tell who lost their way first—me or the filmmakers.