Director Sofia Coppola remakes Clint Eastwood’s 1971 box office flop that, after seeing this Kentucky fried mess, remains a classic unto itself. Based on the novel, this version is served up with almost the same ingredients, but the taste in your mouth afterwards is far different. Colin Farrell (sporting his natural Irish accent) is U.S. Corporal John McBurney, a wounded Union soldier that is found by young Amy (Oona Laurence) in the woods, and brought to Miss Martha’s Seminary, a beautiful, but creepy Southern plantation.
Run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and taught by Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), the five children there are aghast at the sight of a half-dead solider at their school/home. Each one has their own opinion of Mr. McBurney: Amy likes him, youngest Marie (Addison Riecke) is afraid of him, teen Emily (Emma Howard) is indifferent, teen Jane (Angourie Rice) just plain hates him, and hair-always-in-her-face older teen Alicia (Elle Fanning) is somewhat interested in the manly-man at her feet. Martha, moved by compassion and her Christian ethics, decides not to hand him over to Confederates. . .at least not until his leg is healed.
Always a gentleman, John beguiles his way into the household and, once he’s good enough to walk with a cane, shows his respect by doing some extensive yard work. Meanwhile, he’s cast his eye on the repressed Edwina, who is smitten with the love-struck soldier and his kind words of love and adventure. Oddly, (and outta left-field) John bangs the timid Alicia because… reasons. Furious, Edwina pushes John down the stairs in a rage and nearly kills him. But it doesn’t kill him, it only cracks his leg so bad that Martha has to amputate it. Ouch!
Having your leg sliced off without your permission will really ruin your day and John goes from nice to “Hulk-smash!” in 2.5 seconds. Scary and dangerous to be around, Martha decides that John must be flushed from the plantation for good. Sofia Coppola admits that she saw Eastwood’s 1971 film, saying she wanted to retell the movie from the woman’s point of view. Unfortunately, in doing this, as both screenwriter and director, she lost all sense of scope and continuity.
Edited with a weed-wacker, this terribly disappointing remake has snippets of scenes that pop-up for no reason, and a third act that is so rushed it gave me whiplash. As with the 1971 version, Eastwood’s McBurney was a lustful cad that the girls hungrily threw themselves after. You could practically feel the sexual tension dripping off the screen. Here, there is no sexual tension or lust, and there is barley any kissing, save for a brief raping/love-making scene. And all of it feels manufactured and forced with none of it making any sense. Blame it on all the scattershot editing and bad adaption choices.
Uniformly, the acting is decent with Kidman and Dunst fully restrained in their parts; they hardly smile, which is very disturbing. Farrell is excellent, despite the questionable and odd direction he got from Coppola. And just like in the 1971 movie, Amy’s part is handled quite well, this time by Laurence, who’s been outstanding in Bad Moms and 2016’s Pete’s Dragon.