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Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ can’t escape the reboot rut

| Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sofia Coppola BannerAndrea Savage | The Observer

Sofia Coppola isn’t just a director; she’s a writer.

Coppola has written and directed every one of her feature films since her 1998 debut, “Lick the Star.” In her latest film, however, she encountered an entirely new issue — that of the reboot.

Don Siegel — the man who later made a name for himself with his crime thriller “Dirty Harry” — released an adaptation of “The Beguiled” in 1971 with a cast including Clint Eastwood and Elizabeth Hartman Siegel. He and his two screenwriters picked which scenes from the book to include on the screen, decided how to bring the characters to life and determined the films overarching tone more than 40 years before Coppola even began producing her version of the film.

Reboots aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Past films have been modernized and re-mastered throughout the years with varying levels of success. Baz Lurhmann made “The Great Gatsby” a much more accessible and relatable film than Jack Clayton’s 1974 predecessor, Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11” completely revamped Lewis Milestone’s 1960 version (which starred the legendary singers of the Rat Pack), and the Coen Brother’s “True Grit” transformed its aged 1969 source material into a modern, relatable Western.

With Coppola, however, a reboot is a very bad thing. Coppola is an auteur storyteller. She’s at her best when she can create a world and scenarios of her own and bring them to life. Her original screenplays like “Lost in Translation,” her adapted screenplays like “The Virgin Suicides” and her own historical narratives like “Marie Antoinette” boast an unchecked virtuosity. Her movies reach their peak when she is the judge, jury and executioner — or, in her case, the screenwriter, director and storyteller. But the story of “The Beguiled” has already been told on screen, and she, merely retelling it in her own way, has little room to show her immense talent.

While she she did have creative independence during the production process and she did noticeably change the feel from that of the 1971 original, the ghost of Siegel’s film was still a limiting factor. Coppola chose to parallel Siegal’s plot and, in doing so, she fastened herself in the creative tracks of her predecessor. It’s a sad sight, knowing Coppola and the creativity of her past movies.

With “Lost in Translation,” Coppola made a wandering empathy interesting and enthralling; with “Marie Antoinette,” she turned a dark piece of history into cinematic beauty; and with “A Very Murray Christmas” she put a unique spin on the Christmas special. Clearly, she has no creative deficiencies. It seems that her choice to adapt a film instead of a book, story or historical event suppressed her natural artistry. When directing a reboot, it’s incredibly difficult to break away from the influence of the preceding work. Directors and screenwriters are always looking for good resources from which to borrow, and a fully produced feature film is the richest possible resource.

That said, the film isn’t all that bad — it just could have been better. It’s undeniably a Sofia Coppola film, just as aesthetically pleasing as it is mentally stimulating. Visually, it was brilliant and completely characteristic of her directorial style, but the unoriginal story fell short. Missing her essential narrative quirks, the film wasn’t as funny and unexplainably entertaining as her works normally are. One has to ask why she chose to make the film in the first place. If Spiegel adapted the book perfectly, why should Coppola try to tweak perfection?

Coppola is suited for the original, auteur filmmaking — a type of filmmaking modern cinema desperately needs. An original or newly adapted film, possibly set in modern day, would have done considerably more justice to the exceptional filmmaker.

Director: Sofia Coppola

Film: “The Beguiled”

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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