8/10 The Beguiled is a sophisticated, confidently made film about sexual power dynamics. It’s one of the best movies in theaters, and just about everyone should take the time to see it.
In Civil War Virginia, Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles upon James McBurney (Colin Farrell), an Irish mercenary fighting for the Union who has been shot in the leg. Not willing to let him bleed out, Amy takes him back to the girl’s school where she and her classmates hide from the war. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and postpubescent student Alicia (Elle Fanning), none of whom have seen a man in months, immediately take notice, and McBurney notices their noticing. Tension between the ladies’ propriety and lust mounts and boils over.
The Beguiled is a moviegoer’s movie, and one you can really sink your teeth into. No franchise tie-ins, no product placement, no bluffing. It just throws its cards on the table. Like It Comes at Night a few weeks before, it’s a cool breeze in a summer season that’s filled more and more with stuffy tentpoles every year. It comes with pedigree from the Cannes Film Festival, where writer/director Sofia Coppola became the second woman ever to win the Cannes’ Best Director award for it.
That’s an appropriate accolade for a fascinating gender piece. It’s based on Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel A Painted Devil, which has been adapted before into a 1971 Clint Eastwood film, also called The Beguiled. The films share the exact same plot, but Coppola’s goal here was to tell the story from a female perspective. Where the 1971 film plays out the obvious sexual power fantasy of a man who limps backward into a personal harem, the remake focuses mostly on Morrow’s and Farnsworth’s repressed half-attempts at winning McBurney’s favor.
It’s a subtext-driven film that puts the focus on wonderful performances from its all-star cast and reinforces the plot with exemplary lighting, set design and shot choices. With all its technique put into background elements, The Beguiled draws no attention to itself as a movie at all, creating an experience that goes down like top-shelf flavored whiskey, but also one worth examining and re-examining to admire its subtleties.
Like Nerve last year, The Beguiled is a truly feminist piece that comes out in a world where that’s increasingly commoditized in ways that ring false, and Coppola personally is one of the most accomplished female directors of all time. Wonder Woman was decent and mostly not offensive, but if you really want to support women in film, this is the movie to see.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.