Edward Norton works diligently to be a real actor in movies, all serious about his craft and stuff. He doesn’t do fun “popcorn” movies (the Hulk was awfully quiet for a comic book flick, and it’s not his fault knuckleheads like Fight Club), and even though he’s stuck a feeler out, he’s always coming back to being the guy doing some sort of College Grad actor-y shit ever since he was unknown and got all the love way back when from critics for playing a psycho-creepy murder suspect.
So now he’s playing a guy named Stone, another titular convict trying to get paroled, and Robert De Niro is Jack Mabry, a total fucking depressive drag of a man who lives in some weird soul-numbing purgatory with his long-suffering and completely damaged wife Madylyn (the always excellent and actor-y Frances Conroy). Mabry is a guy who sits behind a desk at the prison and does the interviews and paperwork involved in deciding the fate of prospective parolees, who all talk about how they are well on the way to being rehabilitated — except Stone, who is, if not exactly amoral, then mostly just a pragmatist, but with conviction (the other kind), and so he’s not exactly cheesin’ and grinnin’ for The Man. He’s getting downright philosophical, and that’s no way to sell your Prison Rehabilitation Story. So while he’s busy being real, Stone deploys Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), his sex bomb wife, to help his case with the authorities, and really, don’t worry about spoilers here because you’re gonna see where all this is going.
Jovovich labors mightily to deliver a twitchy and disturbing turn as Mrs. Convict. She is Bad News, and it’s embarrassing watching her work, acting and acting. This could be argued as being anywhere on the spectrum from a shitty, hammy performance to an excellent one, on a visceral level. It’s both, of course. As Madylyn, Conroy’s sad glassy-eyed moments will make you want to reach inside the screen and get the lady, her highball, and her Bible the hell out of there.
Meanwhile, Robert De Niro displays difficulty at not being Robert De Niro, with that gummy grimace he does that everybody makes fun of — you are probably doing it right now — but we’ll always give him another chance until he shows up on the Island of Dr. Moreau, and even then it’ll probably be compelling. This time it might just be the limitations of this character as a human being. This guy is so limited and unenlightened and closed up. Anyway, Norton does a fine job and works well against De Niro’s awkward pencil-pusher, tweaking his voice into a completely artificial delivery, a lilting, annoying, confident, and menacing voice, which beyond hair (ugh) and makeup transforms him into a focused, motivated man who just wants to get out of jail, free.
Dir. John Curran; writ. Angus MacLachlan; feat. Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy