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* * * ½

(Tense morality play)

Sophia Coppola directs this tense, psychological morality play with a dark mood, moving ever so slowly from beginning to chilling end.

It is 1864 in Virginia, right in the middle of the Civil War. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is running a boarding school in an old southern manse, when one of her charges who is in the forest gathering mushrooms comes across a wounded Northern soldier (Colin Farrell).

Corporal John McBurney, an Irish mercenary, is given sanctuary, as Miss Martha and the girls treat his serious leg wounds, not quite sure what to do with him once he has recovered well enough to walk. They are a strict Christian group, taking in the enemy with uncertainty as to what to do with him.

Corporal McBurney shakes up the dull existence of the schoolgirls, as each in their own way becomes attracted to his charms. The sexual tension between the wounded soldier and the pious schoolmarm looms over them, while one of the students (Elle Fanning) blatantly flirts and the other (Kirsten Dunst) slowly becomes enamored with him. The movie becomes a subtle battle of the sexes as the soldier, who is literally a prisoner, fights for control against a strong-willed woman.

The situation changes drastically due to the soldier's indiscretion, resulting in a drastic act by Miss Martha that further results in fear, distrust and rage, leading to a tense and fatal conclusion to a movie that will cause you to put yourself into the conflict and ask yourself what you would do.

Coppola creates a dark (literally and figuratively) narrative, moving slowly, sometimes too slowly, toward a powerful ending.

Rated R, with some violence and sexuality.


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