★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
Betrayal is one of the most savage things in the world. And it hasn't been portrayed as beautifully as it has in The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola's masterpiece based on the 1966 novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan & the 1971 film The Beguiled.
Set in 1864, the film focuses on the people who live at the Miss Martha Farnsworth School in Virginia. The Civil War has been raging on for 3 years now, & the Confederate Army is less than a year from surrender. Everyone knows the war is ending soon, especially Miss Martha Farnsworth (played by Nicole Kidman), the headmistress of the school. Only the French teacher, Miss Edwina Morrow (played by Kirsten Dunst), & 5 students: the teenaged Alicia (played by Elle Fanning); & the preteenagers Amy (played by Oona Laurence); Jane (played by Angourie Rice); Emily (played by Emma Howard); & Marie (played by Addison Riecke), remain at the school, as the other teachers, students, & slaves have left.
One day, while searching for mushrooms, Amy finds a wounded Union soldier on the property. The soldier is Cpl. John McBurney (played by Colin Farrell), an Irish immigrant who had deserted the battlefield after his leg was wounded. Miss Farnsworth wonders whether or not to nurse him back to health, for he is a Union soldier in a Confederate state, but eventually decides to nurse him back to health, believing it is the Christian thing to do.
After McBurney is nursed back to health, the teachers & students debate whether or not to deliver him as a prisoner of war to the Confederate Army, but decide against it. McBurney develops a good companionship with the teachers & students, & all seems to be well.
But all is not well, as sexual tension has ravaged the school, especially Miss Morrow & Alicia, while the other students become attracted to him. And as things get intense, something occurs that can never be reversed.
The entire cast is superb, especially Nicole Kidman & Colin Farrell, who both deserve Oscar nominations for their performances.
Sofia Coppola's direction is absolutely spectacular, & it's no surprise that she won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director for this film, becoming only the second woman to win the award. She takes a different approach from the book & the original 1971 film by showing the film from the female perspective. Also, she sets an extremely tense mood that doesn't let up, except for the excellent moments of dark humor littered throughout the film, which only lightens the tense mood briefly & slightly.
Her screenplay is also excellent. Not only does she humanize all the characters, she also makes us love to hate them all, as they all have some dark ulterior motives directed towards everyone.
The production design is one of the shining elements of the film. Beautifully designed by Anne Ross in a Louisiana mansion famously used as the mansion in Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade, the decor of the era is made to perfection here.
The editing by Sarah Flack is excellent. She doesn't let anything linger on for too long or make a moment too short for us to fully experience it.
The cinematography is another shining element. Astoundingly shot by Philippe Le Sourd on 35mm film & in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the camera makes every shot look absolutely beautiful, while the claustrophobic aspect ratio heightens the already tense mood.
The costume design by Stacey Battat is also another shining element. Looking at the style of dresses worn at the time & the uniforms of the Union Army, Battat has made them to perfection.
And the film score by French alternative rock band Phoenix is quiet & meditative, beautifully underscoring every moment of the film.
This is one of the best films of the year, & may just be Sofia Coppola's best film yet. This deserves every amount of praise it's receiving & even more. I hope to see this film mentioned frequently as we get closer to Oscar season, though I'm afraid it was released too early. We'll just have to wait & see.
The Beguiled was screened by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, June 29, 2017. It is currently in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI, The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI, the AMC Birchwood 10 in Fort Gratiot, MI & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & the film is rated R for some sexuality, although it should be rated PG-13 for thematic elements & some sexual material.