She can’t be blamed. She did it out of the goodness of her heart.
It feels absolutely right and yet also really out of the box for Sofia Coppola to helm a remake of Don Siegel’s 70s era thriller that finds a wounded Union soldier taken into an isolated school for girls to recover. Coppola gets so much right that it’s easy to forgive the movie its isolated flaws. For one thing, Coppola, no surprise, nails the atmosphere, something she’s always good at conjuring; this is an oppressive, humid, repressed atmosphere and one can feel the sticky heat and the sick desire as palpable forces. A lot of the performances are really quite good. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell really helm the film perfectly. They’re both very complex figures and the roles are both devilishly difficult to land for an actor and, if an actor does land them, a real masterclass in acting. Both Kidman and Farrell land them to perfection. I was genuinely surprised at just how much sympathy the movie allows to Farrell’s character; it would be easy for a lesser filmmaker than Coppola to allow him to become a plot device or a one-dimensional villain, but he’s a full-blooded, complicated character here and the movie is better for it. The supporting performances are rather a mixed bag, mainly, I think, owing to the script. Both Dunst and Fanning, who are more than capable of great performances, are rather inconsistent here; it’s the fault of the script, I think, in both cases, though for different reasons. The script doesn’t seem to quite have a bead on Dunst’s character and she acts in some very odd and unmotivated ways as the movie calls for her to do so; on the other hand, the script has Fanning’s character a bit too nailed down and she’s an incredibly one-dimensional character who basically pouts petulantly for the entire film. Angourie Rice, a real scene-stealer in Shane Black’s brilliant action-comedy The Nice Guys as Ryan Gosling’s precocious daughter, is quite good in a small role; she’s also a character with one note to play, but her role is small enough that she doesn’t require a lot more and she’s very entertaining. But it’s young Oona Laurence that really knocked me out. With each performance, she signals louder and louder that she has as much potential as any child actress I’ve ever seen and she’s already given performances of so much depth that they would stymie a lot of older actress; see the Ross Partridge indie Lamb, for instance, where she is genuinely Oscar worthy. She really brings her character to life and brings real nuance to it as well. Her relationship with Farrell’s character is probably the most interesting of the movie, since it’s the one that most allows Farrell to show off his character’s humanity; it’s the one relationship that he gains nothing concrete from, the one character in the film that he charms because he likes her, not because he wants something. Anyway, the film has a few problems with some of the supporting characters, as noted above, and it never quite follows through with the gut-punch it should eventually become, but that understatement is probably intentional. Those few flaws aside, Coppola has crafted another fascinating film in her fascinating body of work. It’s a return to form from what I know of her last couple of films, but it fits perfectly in her body of work. It’s a compelling film on its own, for certain, but it’ll also be a much studied and considered film when future historians look back on Coppola as a significant filmmaker of our time, which they will and, in case it still needs to be heard by some people, not just because she’s a woman, but because she’s a singular filmmaker with a vision that no one else really has. It’s worth watching now and then remembering from now on. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a few problems in a mostly solid script aside, this is an oppressively atmospheric & fascinating film that only Coppola could have made; some of the performances are world-class. 3 ½ stars.