Dark, brooding, and contemplative, Stone desperately strives to reach a level of profundity, and for some, maybe it will. But for the other 99% of us, the wandering drama never arrives at a satisfactory or cathartic destination. Every character involved seeks salvation or redemption and yet no one actually gets there, least of all the viewer. For a cast of this caliber, the performances also leave something to be desired. De Niro’s character lives with a skeleton in his closet, but his checkered past rarely haunts him and it’s only hinted at periodically. Without the opening scene that displays the true degree of his emotions, you’d never know, as his melancholic demeanor barely registers as anything but indifference. Edward Norton as “Stone” aggravatingly transitions from calculating to confused to perhaps revelatory to finally some state of presumed insanity. It could also just be “overacting,” or a tribute to his turn in Primal Fear. A fictitious religion in the film proclaims that the way to holiness is through sound – too bad the director didn’t heed this advice, as an unnerving, non-melodic score permeates the movie, as does several grating scenes of rampantly unnatural dialogue.
Parole officer Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) has only a few weeks left before retirement and wishes to finish out the cases he’s been assigned. One such case is that of Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton), a convicted arsonist who is up for review. Jack is initially reluctant to indulge Stone in the coarse banter he wishes to pursue and feels little sympathy for the prisoner’s pleads for an early release. Seeing little hope in convincing Jack himself, Stone arranges for his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to seduce the officer; but motives and intentions steadily blur amidst the passions and buried secrets of the corrupted players in this deadly game of deception.
The opening scene of Stone is brilliant – two characters are introduced with little dialogue and simple, strong actions that lead to tension, foreboding, unpredictability and nerve-wracking possibilities. As the movie progresses, the suspense fades, the prospects narrow, and the potential drastically diminishes. Every stunning, chilling or crafty action that could have occurred doesn’t, and we’re left with a lengthy, drawn-out character study. It’s thought-provoking but not moving, full of roles with undiscovered heights, zero answers, and fewer questions deserving disclosure. We wait for something to happen, but it never does.
Stone attempts to comment on manipulation, judgment, rehabilitation, religion, desire and sin, without ever presenting precise opinions. Jack undergoes momentary introspection as he examines his role of passing judgment over Stone, but never comes away with any edification. He’s flawed, like the prisoner he analyzes, but doesn’t understand faith and happiness so much as he simply questions existence and motives. It’s as if the film is trying to relate some form of guidance concerning karma, reincarnation and purpose, without specifically attaching the characters to these themes. We’re left with bland, corrupt people carrying on with their imperfect lives, unsure if they’ve learned anything, become enlightened in any way, or refused to be influenced. Stone is an empty movie, devoid of axiomatic, conspicuous meaning.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)