Sofia Coppola’s story about a school for girls visited by a wounded soldier feels like it’s being held back
“The Beguiled” is a potentially delicious romp that settles for a passivity that borders on blandness.
There’s a powder keg ready to ignite here, with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning cast as the inhabitants of a seminary that gets an unexpected visit from a wounded Civil War soldier (Colin Farrell), although writer-director Sofia Coppola never lights the wick.
What you’re left with is a lovingly photographed, studiously directed art project that fails to come to life.
Kidman plays Miss Martha, the head of a school for girls in Virginia during the Civil War. When Farrell’s Corporal McBurney shows up at the door seeking shelter (Farrell, perhaps out of laziness, keeps his thick Irish accent), the inhabitants of the house reach varying levels of hot and bothered, and begin lying and scheming amongst themselves.
It sounds like a ready-made soap — it’s a remake of a Clint Eastwood starrer from 1971, also called “The Beguiled” — but Coppola dulls and eases everything down to the point of frustration. As a director, she exceeds at setting moods, whether its the loneliness of displacement in “Lost in Translation” or the hum-drum of celebrity in the intoxicating “Somewhere” (also with Fanning), but here she seems unsettled, and “The Beguiled” suffers from her uncertainty.
Fanning, Dunst and the on-a-roll Kidman all seem ready to dive in, but “The Beguiled” stops them short. There’s plenty of cunning boiling beneath the surface, but Coppola keeps a tight lid on it. In the end, “The Beguiled” winds up feeling repressed.
Rated R: for some sexuality
Running time: 94 minutes