This gloomy prison drama has much potential to score on screen with two topnotch stars like Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton as a corrections officer and an incarcerated corn-rowed arsonist.
Disappointingly, Stone, with its sonorous Christian talk over the airwaves, never gains any necessary dramatic momentum even with some compelling "back and forth" sequences by the stars of the heist picture The Score. It earns some points if looked at as an arresting character study.
It needed more of a gaudy or excessive touch to bring out the sordid pulp of what is cat-and-mouse touching on the notion of spirituality.
DeNiro's stoic, visibly religious Jack Mabry, on the verge of retirement (typical of characters like ones in films like the more resonant drama The Pledge with Jack Nicholson) has one more case to review.
Angus Maclachan's screenplay, working off of the equivocation of Mabry and the eponymous, cunning Gerald Creeson done by Norton with some shadiness that needed to carry over into the overall narrative and visual presentation. Creeson did in his grandparents and gradually gets at Mabry as their discussions unfold with some emotion and an epiphany.
Director John Curran (who did better with Norton and Naomi Watts in the 1920s with The Painted Veil) employs an understated moody veneer that almost turns the actors into pawns.
The garrulous parolee provokes some of the vicious impulses of Jack with his own baggage thanks to flashback that will rile some viewers (especially women) and recalls DeNiro's scary follower of Wesley Snipes in the long forgotten baseball pic The Fan. One might understand why Mabry's missus, Madylyn (Frances Conroy), is religious, aloof and drifting with him having chosen a vocation with the debased.
This rambling showcase of Method acting and verbal sparring never quite triggers the desired fireworks even with the presence of Stone's vamp of a conniving wife Lucetta (a subpar Milla Jovavich of Resident Evil: Afterlife). With a presence like Norton one might hope he could rekindle some of the fervor found in Gregory Hoblit's Primal Fear, but to no avail in this muddled stream-of-consciousness, a ham-fisted portentous tale of redemption. One with few jarring flourishes and craft contributions to support the intended cloudiness beneath the surface.