The Stone Council
First Independent Pictures // Unrated // $19.95 // April 6, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 5, 2009
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The Film:

You'd think that a supernatural conspiracy thriller featuring Monica Bellucci and computer-generated animals would be at least marginally exciting, but The Stone Council proves otherwise. Instead, French director Guillaume Nicloux somehow manages to make the combo an absolute bore from start to finish. Though visually interesting and packed with an above-average turn from Bellucci, the flick's network of twists and turns turn into a labyrinth of strained, drawn-out tedium.

Adapted from a novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé, The Stone Council tells a very simple story. It follows Laura (Bellucci), an adoptive parent to Liu-san, as she searches for the cause of odd markings on her child. Around the same time as the mark begins to appear, Laura and Liu-san begin to share the same dreadful nightmares and see some rather strange things -- including eagles and snakes coiling. It all seems like they might connect to an ancient tribal group attached to her adopted son's heritage, which leads to a maze of discovery through Laura's probing.

Up until the investigation starts into Liu-san's markings, we're treated to sluggish and uninteresting theatrics that serve little more purpose than introducing us to Sybille Weber (Catherine Deneuve), a relationship-like potential ex-lover in Lucas (Sami Bouajila), and an authority, new-relationship figure in Seguie (Moritz Bleibtreu). But, honestly, the dragging pace smothered their presence in the film to drastic degrees. The only characters that pop put (that we actually care about) come in Bellucci's Laura and her son -- and their story, though slightly mysterious, doesn't come close to capturing enough attention.

Without Monica Bellucci, The Stone Council wouldn't have a shred of sharpness. Still, she maintains enough of her signature charisma to grab a few scenes. She even, almost, makes one of the sequences featuring low-belief CG work, a point where she's got to sell the experience of having a mystical snake wrap around her neck and attack her. Her intensity carries throughout, even when it seems like all of the other actors and actresses -- including legendary Catherine Deneuve, whom just recently left me spellbound in her classic Repulsion performance -- showcase little more than a sulking, somber demeanor.

The Stone Council feels like wasted effort from Bellucci, something more suited for the brashness of Irreversible than this disjointed picture. As it plugs along and the revelations about Liu-san's purpose start to come out of the woodwork, we're dragged through attractively-photographed triteness with each answer to all of Laura's questions. I felt myself more drawn to Peter Suschitzky's striking cinematography than anything else, an effort not unlike his work in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises with its focus on emotional close-ups and tightly-textured images. That also, sadly, shows exactly how little The Stone Council engages its audience -- where the most notable elements surrounding its plot beats are the photography capturing them. It's a coherent and competently made picture from Guillaume Nicloux, just utterly lacking in every level where it should be gripping.

Video and Audio:

The Stone Council doesn't look too bad in its 1.78:1 anamorphic image, but it looks as if it's cropped from the original 2.35:1 framing. Colors are very strong and textures can be very engaging, especially late in the film amid the grimier locales. Some noise comes into the picture to heavier-than-desired degrees at a few spots, but overall it's not too bad.

Audio, however, is only available in two English DUBS -- both 2.0 and 5.1 options. It's a very obvious dubbing as well, which really takes away from the mood and enjoyment from the picture. Sound effects and musical accompaniment are overshadowed by the lackluster dialogue. No subtitle options are available either.

Note that The Stone Council was made available via a Blockbuster Exclusive Rental disc, but we're assuming that the quality and such will reflect on the disc offered through retailers. The only special feature available on this nearly-barred DVD is a non-anamorphic Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

If Monica Bellucci's raw talent and a vein of striking cinematography could claim a cinematic victory, then The Stone Council would be a winner. However, its lack of energy, strong narrative, or overall level of mysterious intrigue make it a film that's easy to be Skipped. It might be worth a rental if it were in its original language, but it's simply not worth the time when presented in this fashion.

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