Stone starts with some intense emotional terrorism. This is how you show how seriously conflicted people can be. It’s not just hitting or yelling at each other. What young Jack Mabry does to his family is so sickening you feel anything could happen in this drama. I have not qualms with watching a tough, intense story. Just don’t wuss out on me. Make the characters really complex and manipulative, and let Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton play them.

After about an hour though, you realize that the opening scene isn’t setting anything up for later. This is just going to be one of those films that revels in despair and monotony, just another “bad things happen, people are miserable” pieces for actors who want to show how downbeat they can be.

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The setup shows promise. We’re certainly watching masters perform here. Stone (Norton) is a convict up for parole. If anyone else did that corn rowed street talking schtick it would seem like blatant Oscar bait. There are subtle differences in this performance, distinctions that I don’t understand but Norton does.

Mabry (DeNiro) is a parole officer and Stone is his last case before retirement. (If only he were too old for this sh*t. THAT would be a movie.) There is a series of interviews where the film coasts on the merits of the performances. Stone is trying to express real emotion but he only has a vulgar vocabulary. Mabry just won’t be moved by any of it. Even visitations by Stone’s wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) are intriguing for the romantic interaction that contrasts the interviews.

When Lucetta makes her play, she is intense, provocative and seductive. Jovovich really holds up her end of this three-way drama. There is also gratuitous Milla skin. And I mean really gratuitous, she’s just sitting in a room naked. Is it because she wanted to show she’s still got the body after having a baby, or is it the usual reliable Milla Jovovich nudity? Either way, sincere thanks to Ms. Jovovich for sharing her beauty with us once again.

Once all of these potentially fascinating characters are introduced though, Stone just drags. Is this all just to show how bad life can be? There are much more fascinating expressions of that in cinema. If the evil isn’t even interesting, then it’s just boring. There’s still decent drama in watching these performers express character, but that just means it’s a consolation for not actually going anywhere. At least you got a little show along the way.