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The Beguiled (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/10/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/3/2017

From the outside looking in, Hollywood may seem like a unique business, but, in the end, it is a business and has many similarities with other industries. For example, just like in other parts of the corporate world, nepotism runs rampant in Hollywood. You don't have to look hard to find someone who is mysteriously doing well in the industry simply because they are related to someone famous. However, the Coppola family doesn't take advantage of this in the same way that many others do. Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Coppola, as he's the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, but he changed his name and still found fame. Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford's daughter, stuck with the family name, but after doing some acting in her dad's movies, she decided to try her hand at directing, and found success on her own. But, just like her father had Jack on his resume, Sofia now presents us with The Beguiled.

The year is 1864 and as it's the height of the Civil War, only a handful of students remain at the Farnsworth Seminary in Virginia. One day, Amy (Oona Laurence) is out looking for mushrooms when she comes across an injured Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). She helps him back to the school, where he's immediately tended to by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), who runs the establishment, and Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), the only teach left. The other girls, Alicia (Elle Fanning), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke), and Emily (Emma Howard), are fascinated by this strange visitor and wonder if Miss Martha is going to turn him in to the Confederacy. She decides that McBurney will remain their secret until his is healed. However, things soon become tense as the females become more and more curious about their male guest.

The Beguiled is based on a 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan, which was previously filmed by Don Siegel in 1971 (a film which featured Clint Eastwood as McBurney). I have not seen that film or read the novel, but in the press materials, Coppola stated that she wanted to take that familiar story and give it a feminine perspective. It would want to look at that in the sense that the film focuses on the female characters, then I suppose that she has succeeded. We see how Miss Martha has opted to keep the school open, as it is a safe-haven for the girls, and how she, Edwina, and the students must not only focus on the studies, but also tend to the garden and consult with Confederate soldiers who come to check on them.

If you want to take feminine perspective as having to do with what the female character's are thinking or how they view the world, then the movie fails miserably. Coppola wrote the script for The Beguiled and she's stripped the story of anything but it most basic elements, making this one of those movies where we know what should be happening in the story, and the film is even sort of implying that these things are happening...but, nothing is ever happening. The whole point of The Beguiled is that a male has intruded into a female space. The younger girls simply see him as a mystery and their secret guest, but Miss Martha, Edwina, and Alicia view him as an object of desire -- the older women having missed the company of men, which Alicia is just coming of age. And while we certainly get that all of this is happening, the movie does next to nothing to expand on it. As this was a very conservative time, the women don't talk about this with one another, but we also don't know how much they suspect one another. As for McBurney, we get very little information about him as well, so he just comes across as a two-dimensional horny guy who can't believe that he's in a house full of women. The whole thing reminded me of the Castle Anthrax sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Coppola decides to combine her vague and shallow script (which reportedly cut out many important details from the book) with an editing style which borders on maddening. I hadn't expected The Beguiled to be an action movie, but Coppola stretches out scenes and allows the camera to linger on static objects. The script offers no action and the overall pace of the film does nothing to help it. Just the basic premise of the film offers enough fuel to create a passable psychological thriller, but Coppola throws all of that away in order to make an incredibly boring film which plays like a petticoat fashion show. The third act finally throws in some action, but by that time, we are far past caring about these dull characters, as we wish that the war, and this movie, would end.

The Beguiled apparently wants to win some sort of "Best Spongebath" award on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been windowboxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a mild amount of grain and no defects from the source materials. The transfer here is incredibly dark. I appreciate that Coppola wanted to re-create the candle-lit look of the era, but it's often impossible to see exactly what is happening here. There's a moment where one of the women is in McBurney's room and I honestly couldn't tell who it was. The lighter scenes do show good colors and a nice level of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The sounds of war are never far here and we get some nice subwoofer rumbling from the battle. Inside the house, we are treated to stereo and surround effects which often help to relay what is happening in the house. Some of the surround effects are nicely detailed and feature individual sounds.

The Beguiled Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "A Shift in Perspective" (7 minutes) has Coppola explain her approach to the story and how she decided to tell the story from the female character's point of view. We are treated to comments from the cast and a nice amount of on-set footage. "A Southern Style" (6 minutes) focuses on the look of the film, including the production design and the costumes.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long