Stoned Review

For a film which has become such a labour of love for its producer and director Stephen Woolley – going through a gestation period of roughly ten years - Stoned is curious inasmuch as it comes across as just so wrong. It aims to tell the story of the Rolling Stones’ doomed founder Brian Jones, but doesn’t appear too sure as to how to go about it. Is it focussing on his final weeks, as would seem to be the case for the most part? Or attempting some boarder canvas? In fact, it’s neither, but some kind of awkward compromise between the two – the result, it’s hard not to surmise, of too much tinkering over the ten year period?

What’s particularly worrying about this is the fact that Stoned appears to begin with a very specific focus. Post-credits we witness Jones’ death in his own swimming pool and then flashback to his initial meeting with builder Frank Thorogood, who arrives at his country house on the behest of manager/personal assistant Tom Keylock in order to perform some minor adjustments here and there. Playing Thorogood and Keylock are Paddy Considine and David Morrissey, their very presence telling us that these two are going to figure far more significantly over the film’s duration than either Mick or Keith. Indeed, during Woolley’s commentary he points out the influence of those Harold Pinter-Joseph Losey collaborations, Accident and The Servant, specifically the latter. Essentially, he’s telling us that it’s the odd couple relationship which forms between Jones and Thorogood which is integral and the power games/clashes of culture which occur between them. And yet, if this is the case then why do need it padded out with so much biographical exposition and the like? There seems to be a central mistrust of the audience on either Woolley’s part, or that of his screenwriters (Stoned having been written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the team behind Let Him Have It, various new Bond ventures and Plunkett & Macleane), meaning that we have to repeatedly endure the spelling out of Jones’ past and his Rolling Stones’ experiences rather than be able to concentrate on the more intriguing issues. Indeed, it’s instructive to consider Last Days, Gus Van Sant’s impressionistic account of the final week in Kurt Cobain’s life. There we have a film which gained a huge amount of dramatic weight simply because it allowed the audience to impose their own knowledge and preconceptions onto the material. Here, however, such a contribution is continually denied in order to make room for a wealth of clumsily shoehorned details which, put simply, just aren’t necessary.

There’s also a bigger side effect to this than just misplaced focus. The most painful loss is the fact that Considine and Morrissey – arguably two of the UK’s most interesting actor currently working – are left with little to do. Compared to previous performances in A Room for Romeo Brass, say, or 24 Hour Party People, Considine appears to be nothing more than a shadow. Certainly, Thorogood may very well have been an “ordinary bloke”, yet the film never really offers anything beyond this, thereby suggest that really that was all there was. Likewise, Morrissey appears more a caricature than a living, breathing person, an aspect which is particularly prominent when he’s onscreen with Little Britain’s David Walliams. The comic actor is basically given nothing more than an extended cameo as the Stones’ accountant and as such gives the kind of performance you’d expect from such a comedian – a touch of scene stealing, but no real depth. Yet the same thing applies to Morrissey: he’s good enough to capture the attention, but not given enough to work with so that he can turn in the kind of performance we’ve seen previous in the likes of Clocking Off and State of Play.

Of course, both Thorogood and Keylock are minor figures – if they figure at all, that is – in the public consciousness and so they’re portrayals here can at least escape comparisons with their real-life counterparts. Unfortunately, the same isn’t quite true of Jones and the other members of the Rolling Stones (or Andrew Loog Oldham or Anita Pallenberg), and here too we find problems. Whilst Leo Gregory is able to perfectly capture Jones’ lopsided grin, he never really convinces elsewhere meaning that it becomes difficult even to impose our own ideas of the musician onto him. Essentially, we’re getting the script’s version of him –which is not really anything more than a cipher – and very little else. As for the rest of the Stones, they seemingly come down to sticking the right hairstyle onto the wrong actor or, in Bill Wyman’s case, ensuring that his bass guitar is held in the correct manner.

Had all of this been done right however – had the film presented a more concentrated focus, more rounded character and, in some cases, better actors – then it would still have one major hurdle to overcome. Though Woolley has in the past produced to some notable sixties’ recreations (Backbeat, Scandal), his decision to install himself as director is a crucial misstep. His clear inexperience not only makes Stoned stylistically obvious – black and white for the flashbacks, 8mm and 16mm interpolations for that “authentic” sixties feel – but also musically obvious – Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ upon Jones taking his first LSD trip; ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ making an inevitable appearance albeit in a horrendous Kula Shaker cover version – and symbolically obvious. Do we really need to have Jones staring into a broken mirror do demonstrate his fractured mind? Well, yes actually, as it sums up the overall mood of triteness perfectly. Fans of the Stones are advised to wait for Performance to make it shiny disc debut – a film which says far more about Jones’ plight than anything Stoned can muster.

The Disc

Though the film may represent a major disappointment, Sony have at least blessed it with a decent DVD treatment. Visually, it looks superb having been taken from a fine print and demonstrating few technical flaws. There is some moderate edge enhancement on occasion, but otherwise nothing to speak of. Otherwise, there’s much to appreciate and, of course, the original aspect is preserved and presented anamorphically. As for the soundtrack, much the same is true. When shown theatrically the film came with a simple Dolby soundtrack, which is here upgraded (presumably with Woolley’s supervision) to a Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. Furthermore it handles things exceptionally well, especially the various tunes courtesy of, amongst others, the Counterfeit Stones and the White Stripes.

As for extras, here we find a commentary from Woolley which sadly spends too much time discussing events onscreen as opposed to the surely more interesting production history. Similarly, the featurette – though over a half an hour in length – goes for standard EPK guff as opposed to anything more interesting, whilst the deleted scenes (which can also be viewed with optional commentary by Woolley and editor Sam Sneade) never really offer anything of substance. All round, these pieces are certainly better than a bare bones disc, though in most cases (as with the film itself) we should have expected more.

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