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The Stone Boy

The Stone Boy
Anchor Bay
1984 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 91 min. / Street Date May 17, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Robert Duvall, Jason Presson, Glenn Close, Susan Rinell, Dean Cain, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Fisher, Gail Youngs
Cinematography Juan Ruiz Anchía
Production Designer Joseph G. Pacelli Jr.
Art Direction Stephanie Wooley
Film Editor Paul Rubell
Original Music James Horner
Written by Gina Berriault from her story
Produced by Ivan Bloch, James G. Robinson, Joe Roth
Directed by Christopher Cain

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

It's good to be able to defend and promote 'little movies' like the Horton Foote features 1918, On Valentine's Day and Courtship; they consistently satisfy when popular action pictures or comedies quickly fade. The Stone Boy from 1984 is a powerful drama on a tiny scale, a story of a farming family that barely survives a traumatic incident.

Stars Robert Duvall and Glenn Close give solid support, but the film's focus is the intense young actor Jason Presson. There are scenes when you want to jump up to comfort the little fellow.


Little Arnold Hillerman (Jason Presson of Explorers) accidentally kills his beloved brother Eugene (Dean Cain) in a hunting accident, and goes into emotional shock. His family grieves but his father Joe (Robert Duvall) refuses to talk to Arnold when the boy can't account for the fact that he didn't report the killing immediately. The ripples of family discord widen when Arnold's uncle Andy Jansen (Frederic Forest) cheats on his pregnant wife Lu (Gail Youngs) by seeing Eugene's waitress girlfriend Amalie (Cindy Fisher). Only Arnold's grandfather George (Wilford Brimley) knows how to give Arnold his 'emotional space.' Feeling enormous pressure but unable to express it, Arnold runs away to Reno.

In 1982 Steven Spielberg made his phenomenally popular 'family' movie E.T. The Extraterrestrial, which places its young hero in a broken home with real problems. Savant remembers being practically invited to leave the room when I took exception to the film's various messages, the very least of which was the way it manipulates sentiment and inflates the importance of a kid-pet relationship way beyond anything psychologically reasonable for kids to see. My children at the time were too young to see E.T., which caused me no regrets.

This family drama from around the same time is Savant's idea of what families are really like. The Stone Boy is not a children's film, but it is truly honest about human feelings, and certainly does not twist them into a formula to win over a mass audience. The Hillerman family is good, decent and fair; its wildest member is an uncle who lacks a serious commitment to his marriage. They're hardworking midwestern people of the kind that figure deeply in Savant's personal heritage yet don't show up on screen very much. They care deeply about each other but don't commonly express their emotions, especially the men. Joe Hillerman cannot articulate the depth of his feelings and doesn't want to injure Arnold by showing his inner rage, but he can't help it.

The Stone Boy is Arnold's story and we experience his emotions subjectively. He retreats from the awfulness of the accident into silence, looking away from his parents' stares. They wait for a reaction from him, just the thing Arnold can't muster; each retreats into a private space. Arnold's mother is good and loving, but even she sends him away when he comes down the first night, a crucial mistake she immediately regrets. His father stands accusing and disapproving no matter what face he happens to be wearing at any given time, a pressure that for Arnold is unbearable.

Gina Berriault's screenplay is from her own story, which was filmed once for CBS TV in 1960 starring Luke Halpin. Her focus wisely remains on Arnold's emotional isolation and not on assigning responsibility. There's only one scene where a sheriff asks harsh questions to see if the shooting was truly accidental.

This is indeed a sober story but it needs to be stressed that The Stone Boy is no downer. Jason Presson is a marvel, and the actors around him make a fine ensemble of believable family members. The tone of Christopher Cain's direction is so engaging that we don't question why a manhunt isn't called out when a 12 year-old takes off across the state on his own. There's a very simple scene on a bus with Presson and Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame. If it doesn't reach you emotionally, nothing will. Savant strongly recommends The Stone Boy as a rental, at the very least.

Anchor Bay's DVD of The Stone Boy comes in a fine enhanced widescreen transfer. The one extra is a trailer that tries but fails to translate the film's delicate theme into commercial terms.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Stone Boy rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 24, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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