The first half of Stone lives and dies by its dialogue, and it mostly dies. Performances, natural or not, can’t deliver the words in any convincing manner. It feels and sounds like an act, so even if the mind play at work between convicted arsonist Stone (Edward Norton) and parole officer Jack (Robert De Niro) is engaging, there’s a lack of authenticity around everything.
It needs that edge of believability too, because where Stone is headed is dark territory. The movie is permeated by religious chatter of various levels, some deep, metaphysical stuff about what we’re supposed to be doing as humans. It causes breakdowns between these characters, all of them wanting out of their own lives but with no way to do so.
Jack finds comfort from Stone’s wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), who may or may not be manipulating Jack for her own husband’s parole. Stone is stuck in prison and seemingly finds spirituality. Jack’s wife can never leave her abusive relationship because of threats. Each character goes through a metamorphosis, Stone persistent in the religion for the cause of it all, radically altering who they are if not for the better.
As a psychological thriller, the transformations happen with a leisurely place. Characters are hard to read and their motivations unclear. The script by Angus MacLachlan never loses focus or the sight of its goal, even if the filmed material doesn’t measure up. The direction tends to be static, De Niro and Norton facing each other in a dim office having a battle of wits.
The result is interesting, the premise enough to carry the material somewhat to a rapid-fire ending where everything begins to fall apart. Where the characters go from here is clear, and the experience has changed them for better or worse. Whether or not that’s interesting enough material to see them all through isn’t as definitive.
Anchor Bay issues this typically sufficient AVC encode to Blu-ray with pleasing results, a film that gets better the longer it goes in terms of eye candy. What doesn’t change is the pale color palette, hardly any scenes rising the flesh tones above muted, as if lit by generic fluorescent bulbs. Of course, that’s just the digital intermediate talking.
Black levels never have a significant burst of depth, but remain like the color, consistent. They never lose their routine layer of richness, even in a couple of scenes at night outside a shoe store. That gives the transfer a bit of challenge it lives up too. The lighting keep the contrast dim, outdoor scenes as Jack reports to work or as Stone sits outside in the prison yard the only time it carries much weight.
While not overly sharp, the video presents a high level of fine detail. The static photography keeps things in clean focus, the mid-range resolved firmly. Close-ups can be even better, De Niro’s aging face reproduced here as every line, wrinkle, and pore is resolved. Exteriors or landscapes are superb, a field of tall grass featured on a few occasions beautiful as it waves in the wind. The random bouts of softness are quick to dissipate.
Stone was shot on film, and carries a generally thick grain structure. Typically under control, it suffers from those moments where noise becomes elevated against some of the plainer backdrops. With the camera so intent on the actor’s faces, the downside of the artifacts is negligible. Of larger concern is the level of print damage for a movie that’s not even a year old at this time. Specks and light scratches are present for the entirety of the movie, certainly something that should not be a trend.
Anchor Bay chooses TrueHD as their codec, although with such a meager sound design, not much could help it. It’s a bit disconcerting to be outdoors in a chatter-filled prison yard yet not hear much of anything in the surrounds, even as the Stone character begins to focus on the sounds around him. Even inside the prison, the echoed halls producing almost nothing to fill the room with.
What’s stranger is the office ambiance can be noticeable, phones ringing constantly with great positional work. At Jack’s home, insects buzz. The minimalist score is reproduced cleanly, a few loud ominous drum beats signaling something dire hitting the sub fairly hard.
The only extra is a supposed making-of that is barely more than a plot recap for six minutes. Some trailers are here too.