Unlike many other people who’ve also seen the original film directed by Don Siegel I’m not going to spend so much of the review drawing comparisons between said film and this new version as told by Sofia Coppola considering how they’re telling the same story with completely different intentions behind them. It’s easy to admire how Sofia Coppola drastically changes the pace of her own works so that she can set herself out to be a harder filmmaker to pinpoint stylistically, but this isn’t the first time she’s made a period piece – although there’s a certain playfulness that can be detected from her own experiments that allows her to remain distinctive. And although I haven’t consistently loved her work (Lost in Translation still remains the pinnacle of her own directorial efforts to myself), it was easy enough for me to recognize she’s a talented filmmaker to keep my eyes peeled for.
Based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel, this new version of The Beguiled is told within a more predominantly female light, and it’s especially noticeable from the fact Sofia Coppola is the director. With a primarily female perspective put into light, The Beguiled finds its own best suit both as a blend of melodrama and gothic nightmare. This film’s predominantly female perspective only heightens a feeling of uncertainty around the fate of Corporal John McBurney on behalf of The Beguiled, yet also plays upon a far more lustful and erotic note. This is where Sofia Coppola is finding herself at some of her most playful behind the camera, because she cleverly plays upon subtlety in order to build upon this film’s atmosphere, thus drawing oneself into the sense of confinement where it lives within. Coppola doesn’t need much more than what she already has in order to turn a fantasy into a nightmare so fast, she already closes oneself within the setting quickly.
Taking this film’s story into a predominantly female perspective calls for where the story seems to find itself at its most capable, for Sofia Coppola’s fascination with the growth of the women’s own sexual identities allows itself to shine – yet not in an erotic manner. At its core, The Beguiled is a melodrama about innocence from routine, but there’s something far more provocative coming out from Colin Farrell’s presence as Cpl. John McBurney. But as Coppola shows us in The Beguiled, it doesn’t matter how old or young one must be in order for their own sexual curiosity to grow – there’s evidence of lust forming at the hands of sexual repression, and Coppola’s understanding of this growing desire is what ultimately keeps The Beguiled at its most enticing. The whole cast, ranging from Nicole Kidman to the young Oona Laurence, is all around wonderful – for they’ve already worked to create a work so inviting before it all turns into a grim, tragic nightmare.
Unfortunately there’s also an extent to which I don’t find Coppola’s intentions don’t land with nearly as much of an impact. This is where I begin to draw back to the original Don Siegel film, which was transgressive for the period in which it was made. Coppola’s version still left far too much to be desired in the same manner that Siegel’s film had done so, yet for differing reasons. Considering that this was indeed where Coppola found herself toying with her own environments all the more, there’s a bigger problem coming out from how at its core, it still feels tamed. Coppola knew that she was going to twist what once was a male fantasy into a harrowing curse, but she fails at reworking what else had allowed the original Beguiled to work so effectively. It already carries an R-rating just like the original film, but because she isn’t taking the source material overly seriously, she seems afraid to embrace said rating for her own benefit – cutting away from what could have turned the film into something even more impactful.
And to speak of the film’s third act, it only falls down even further from there onward at the hands of painfully obvious foreshadowing. Coppola has already built something claustrophobic from the fact that she has confined so much of it within a small, repetitive setting, and given how much it is building up to, one would only expect that Coppola could go ahead and subvert material that one already knows into something else. And it’s most troubling because it seems as if the revelations only seem to happen at the last minute, losing a grasp on how natural everything was building itself up to be. And the way everything plays out in here isn’t coming out terribly, but the fact that it’s easy to see where everything goes only loses touch of what made the feeling of being confined to such a setting so frightening. It just seemed like there was so much buildup that would eventually lead to a sudden stop.
As per usual with Sofia Coppola’s filmography, it’s a feast for the eyes and the cast is always a delight to watch. But considering the source material that Sofia Coppola had in her own hands, I can’t help but feel disappointed she didn’t seem to play around with it enough in order to allow itself to become transgressive like the original film adaptation had done for its time. But it’s easy enough for me to say that all the good outweighs the bad in The Beguiled, because Sofia Coppola’s most distinctive deviation, the fact that she’s shifted the perspective over to a primarily female light, has only given the audience a chance to understand where their own growth and curiosity would take them, and eventually go ahead to shatter their own innocence. It’s just interesting to me now, what the original film is doing poorly, Coppola’s version improves upon – and yet what the original film does so well, Coppola seems to render poorly in her own take.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Focus Features.
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Screenplay by Sofia Coppola, from the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan
Produced by Youree Henley, Sofia Coppola
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 94 minutes