Dave White
Stone Review

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The Last Temptation of De Niro

Who's In It: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy

The Basics: De Niro is a prison parole caseworker on the eve of retirement and Norton is a convicted arsonist on the eve of parole who decides to facilitate that activity by slyly turning De Niro's world into the eve of destruction. He does this by getting his wife (Jovovich) to seduce De Niro as Norton simultaneously plays him on the inside, manipulating the convict's favorite trick move, The Spiritual Rebirth. Jovovich throws a wrench in all of it by turning obsessive and De Niro's wife (Six Feet Under's prim mom Frances Conroy), usually content to sit home and drink, throws a few wrenches of her own into the machinery of their seething peace and quiet.

What's The Deal: Here's a weird thriller for you, one that's not a thriller at all. It sets up the mechanics of a pulp fiction-style life-sabotage in the direction of De Niro's soul-eroded paper pusher, but as the movie creeps toward its third act you begin to wonder if anything gut-punching is ever going to go down. And then you stop wondering. Norton keeps himself firmly under control, De Niro barely yells at anyone and the two supporting female characters wind up delivering the strangest plot advancements. As all of this transpires, the movie stays heavy, symbolic and almost literary in its restraint, like maybe it wants to be a Flannery O'Connor story. It's got something to say. What that something is, though--besides a four character study in spiritual decay--is sort of up to you.

Resident Evil: You think you're going to see this movie because you like Norton or De Niro but what you'll find out while you watch it is that Milla Jovovich has been hiding her abilities under a rock. She's been so busy battling zombies and aliens for most of her career that you'd be forgiven for assuming she wasn't much of an actor. But she's the coolest thing here, the temptress with an even darker side than her prison-rat husband assumed. Along with Conroy, who's excellently jittery and weird as De Niro's alcoholic Bible-obsessed wife, it's the women who keep the whole thing lurching unpredictably along.

Theology Students, Take Note: Just about everyone here is chewing on the tougher cuts of religious life. De Niro listens to right-wing Christian talk radio nonstop while conducting a rough-sex affair with Jovovich, Conroy throws Bible verses and prayer demands at her husband as a punishment for not giving her the divorce she wanted when they were young, and Norton's corn-rowed grifter babbles almost incoherently about sound waves from a wacky New Age philosophy, while the score electronically buzzes and glitches along underneath. That makes Jovovich's character the snake in the tree, but you probably figured that part out already. The title, meanwhile, seems to refer to the consistency of the souls of everyone involved.


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