'The Beguiled' is brittle and vaporous

'The Beguiled' stars Nicole Kidman as the headmistress of a Southern school during the Civil War. When a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) arrives at the school, various women vie for his affections.

Ben Rothstein/Focus Features/AP
Nicole Kidman in a scene from "The Beguiled."

Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” is another of her too-cool-for-school exercises in dry ice dramaturgy. A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, it squanders an enticing premise: A wounded Union soldier in the Civil War, corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell, in full Irish brogue), is taken in by a group of Southern female teachers and students living by themselves in an isolated mansion. As he is nursed back to health, machinations ensue as the various women vie for the man’s affections. He, in turn, in an effort to survive the war, entices them in ways both subtle and blatant.

Coppola doesn’t exaggerate any of these maneuverings, but her distancing effects sap much of the life from the situation. Given her source material, her ultra-refined sensibility could do with a bit more pulp. A few of the performances, especially Nicole Kidman’s, as the lady in charge, and Kirsten Dunst’s, as the teacher pining to flee with the corporal, have some bite, but not enough to make much of an imprint in this brittle, vaporous chamber piece. Grade: C+ (Rated R for some sexuality.)  

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