Sofia Coppola's new historical drama, The Beguiled, turns on an intriguing setup: in the waning days of the Civil War, a wounded Union soldier happens upon a girls boarding school deep in the woods of confederate Virginia. In the spirit of Christian charity, the women take him in.
With Colin Farrell as the soldier, Nicole Kidman as the pious headmaster, and Kirsten Dunst as a repressed teacher, the math is in place for some dark, interesting equations. The older women haven't seen a man in years. The younger girls have never seen one at all. The soldier, hobbled by a broken leg, is desperate and vulnerable—if the women turn him over to the passing patrols, he's dead. What will happen?
This is a remake of a lurid, trashy Clint Eastwood movie from 1971, but Coppola is interested in the story's deeper rhythms. Beneath genteel flirtations, dark forms stir, and the air is heavy with potential sex and violence. But it's all too slow. Scenes linger and dissolve, moments are held a beat too long, and when the payoff does land, it's decidedly underwhelming. Nothing feels resolved. Psychological subtleties make this a challenging film, but some storytelling vigor would have made it a better one.