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The Beguiled

Baby Driver

June 29, 2017

The Beguiled (**)    

Director Donald Siegel’s 1971 film The Beguiled has always been one of the undiscovered classics of its decade in my humble opinion. In spite of the iconic Clint Eastwood getting top billing in the film, and the fact it was released during one of the most productive periods of the actor’s career, it’s the one Eastwood vehicle with which people aren’t familiar.  

For the better part of the last twenty-five years since I first discovered it I’ve always mentioned it in conversation as being one of my favorites on Clint’s resume. This, of course, has usually been followed by a confused look by whoever happens to be on the opposite side of the conversation. As such, I’ve always thought it was a classic worth rediscovering.  

When I first heard of celebrated director Sofia Coppola’s decision to remake the film last year, my initial reaction was a resounding cry of ‘Why?’

Colin Farrell & Kirsten Dunst in The Beguiled

But then again, after some deliberation, I thought that maybe a female perspective on source material by a celebrated male author (Thomas Culinan) might not be such a bad idea. Boy, was I wrong.   

Coppola has never been a favorite filmmaker of mine. I was in the minority in my dislike of her celebrated film Lost in Translation, and none of her subsequent films have changed my mind one iota. Coppola not only has directed this picture but also gets a screenwriting credit as well. That’s surprising considering how all of the female characters in the film are so poorly developed. Instead of fully fleshed out human beings they come across as caricatures, models of propriety and decorum but not much else.  

The basic plot of the original novel and film adaptation has been retained almost note for note. If you’ve seen the original you’re certainly not going to find any surprises contained in this version so don’t expect them.    

The story concerns a wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), stranded in the Deep South during the waning days of the Civil War. Amy (Oonar Lawrence), who happens to live at a nearby boarding school populated by women, discovers the wounded soldier during an afternoon trip to pick mushrooms. Amy assists in getting McBurney back to the school where the headmistress (Nicole Kidman) promptly fixes up his broken leg. A moral dilemma ensues as to whether he should be turned over to the Confederate soldiers or put to use at the school. For his part, McBurney takes note of the house full of lonely women and decides to use it to his advantage, which, of course, can’t end well.  The film’s story is by its nature a methodically paced affair. That worked out okay for the original film due to the flashy directorial flourishes courtesy of filmmaker Don Siegel. Unfortunately, Coppola’s approach is so low key that when something finally happens at around the one-hour mark the audience has  been almost lulled to sleep and probably won’t care. It’s a real disappointment for a remake with so much squandered potential.

Baby Driver (*** ½)

Writer/director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a welcome change in the sea of sameness that passes for mainstream cinemas these days. With the preponderance of super hero extravaganzas and sequels that litter multiplexes on a regular basis, it’s nice to see a film distributor­—in this case Sony—put a film out there in the summer movie going season that doesn’t already have an established brand behind it. If audiences are going to try an untested brand, Baby Driver is the one to beat.

The Baby (Ansel Elgort) of the film’s title is a getaway driver who’s the best in his business. So good in fact that his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), uses him for all of the bank robbery jobs that he orchestrates on a semi regular basis. Baby is the quiet type who only speaks when spoken to and later we learn the reasons for this. 

Baby was orphaned as a child when his parents were killed in a car crash. Having been in the car with them but miraculously surviving, Baby now suffers from a form of tinnitus that forces him to listen to music constantly in an effort to drown out the noise.

Ansel Elgor & Kevin Spacey in Baby Driver

This gives Wright the ample opportunity to bombard the film’s soundtrack with back to back tunes. The choice of songs are quite something to behold as Wright eschews the obvious cliched choices found in other mainstream pictures in favor of lesser known but still effective selections that. The music choices are so good, that you find yourself seized by the emotion to go out and buy the film’s soundtrack immediately.

The plot of the film revolves around Baby making one last run for his boss before quitting the business and hightailing it to another life with his girlfriend, Deborah (Lily Jones). Of course things go wrong as Baby finding himself butting heads with the thugs (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eliza Gonzalez) he’s been entrusted to assist in their failed attempts to pull off a robbery. 

No one will ever accuse Baby Driver of being deep, meaningful or philosophical, but it’s so full of energy and great kinetic filmmaking that it’s hard not be enraptured in its spell. It’s also a kick to spot the many nods to other films like Baby Driver.  For instance, a cameo by Walter Hill, director of the  1978 film The Driver, an obvious inspiration for Baby Driver, had me silently smiling. It’s that kind of thing that reminds me why I still love the experience of going to the movies and on that Baby Driver delivers, no pun intended.

The Beguiled is playing in Charlotte. Baby Driver is playing in Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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