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Review: The Beguiled – Unnecessary Civil War reenactment

The BeguiledHave you ever seen the 1971 film, The Beguiled, starring Clint Eastwood in one of his early dramatic (non-western-action-hero) roles, directed by the actor’s longtime collaborator, Don Siegel? If you have, then I struggle to find a reason to recommend the 2017 version of The Beguiled.

The makers on this new flick, including writer/director Sofia Coppola of Lost in Translation (2003) fame, are quick to tell you that their new movie is a new translation of the Thomas P. Cullinan novel (originally titled A Painted Devil) and that it is not a remake of the Eastwood film.

Yeaaah, but the 1971 Eastwood film is also based on the Cullinan book, so what is the difference? Not much. They are both fine period films, both set during the Civil War, which you will have trouble telling apart beyond the different ensemble casts.

The story involves a wounded union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), who is found, hiding in a Virginia forest by feisty, young Amy (Oona Laurence); who takes the man back to her all-girl Confederate boarding school, which is strictly run by Ms. Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman).

Instead of reporting the man to the Confederate army, the women and girls decide that the Christian thing to do is to nurse the soldier back to health and then turn him over to the authorities. This turns out to be an unwise move as McBurney is quite the good-looking and suave charmer, and he almost immediately starts working his macho magic on this group of sexually repressed southern belles.

The BeguiledI know, it kind of sounds like the plot to an unoriginal soft-porn film, but Coppola, who recently won the Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for her effort, turns the story into more of a psychological drama – just as Don Siegel had done before her.

There’s something to be said for having a woman (Coppola) behind the wheel, I understand that and kudos to all involved, but, again, I really didn’t notice that much of a difference between this film and the original.

If Coppola wanted to do something truly original, she could have changed the setting to one of the more recent middle-east wars and have an American soldier taken in by repressed Muslim women. Now that would have been an interesting film.

Soon, the girls at the school begin turning on each other in an effort to earn McBurney’s affections; then things really turn south, so to speak, for the amorous union soldier, until they mushroom into a total turtle-terminating nightmare. (Little Amy has a pet turtle… and I’ve already said too much.)

The movie’s ensemble cast also includes Kirsten Dunst as the lovelorn Edwina Dabney; Elle Fanning as the turned-on teenager, Alicia; and Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard as the school’s younger students.

The only real fault with this film is some editing awkwardness towards its end. It has fine acting and direction, and if you haven’t seen the original, then this 2017 version is certainly worth checking out. But, if you have seen the old Eastwood film, this one is more of an unnecessary Civil War reenactment. Guide: 6.5/10

Photos © 2017 Focus Features LLC.

The Beguiled is currently in limited release in New York and Los Angeles. The film opens in the Phoenix area on June 30, 2017.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.