Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TIFF 2005: "STONED" (Review)

(Discovery) United Kingdom, 103 minutes
Directed by: Stephen Woolley
Screenplay by: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
Cast: Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine, Monet Mazur

There I sat, with my purse emblazoned with the “Some Girls” album cover by my side, anxiously awaiting “Stoned,” a film that was supposed to be about Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, one of the legendary band’s original members and, in the beginning, its driving force. I thought I was going to get a bit of insight into the one member I knew little about beyond the fact that he drowned in his swimming pool, another victim of the excesses of the 60s.

Now, I hate it when critics review a movie for what they think they it should be rather than for what it is, but in this case, I’ll allow myself the indulgence. I didn’t get what I was hoping for. Not even close.

The conceit of “Stoned” is not so much a biopic of Jones (played by Leo Gregory) – although there are flashes of Jones doing the early legwork that got the band noticed – but a long, drawn-out examination of an obscure theory that Jones was murdered rather than the victim of a tragic accident.

“Stoned” spends a great deal of time in Jones’ lonely mansion, perpetually under renovation, as the man himself spirals down that often-trod path of drug addiction, despair and madness. As the characters of Jones’ life – the other Stones, Anita Pallenberg – float through the story, they’re reduced to mere shadows, although Monet Mazur’s Pallenberg gets a more in-depth treatment than Mick or Keith, who only show up to tell Jones he’s out of the band. Mostly what we get is Jones getting stoned with hangers-on like contractor Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine) who leech off him until there’s nothing left.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for a particularly interesting story and, aside from a few stylistic flourishes, it doesn’t make for a particularly interesting movie. By the time that fateful night rolled around I found myself completely uninterested in the circumstances of Brian Jones’ death as proposed by “Stoned.” At a certain point, does it really matter that he was killed when it’s made pretty clear by the events of the film that an early death was inevitable?

There’s something I’ve come to learn in my years of film fandom: I really hate watching people get high in movies. Drug addiction isn’t interesting, it’s a pathetic, desperate grind. Yes, there are some movies centred around addiction that have made the grade, such as “Trainspotting,” but in the hands of the wrong director it can really bog down a film, which I found happened with last year’s “Ray.” Woolley definitely falls into that trap here, and it’s unfortunate. Surely Brian Jones, who led the Rolling Stones from the blues and R&B to incorporating world music into their repertoire, deserves better than to be remembered on film simply as an overindulged, narcissistic druggie.

-Lidia Ferrari