Robert De Niro's alarm must have finally gone off — in Stone, the actor seems more awake than he has in years. De Niro is Jack, a prison corrections officer who, abandoning all professional and common sense, foolishly screws himself by screwing Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), the wife of the cornrowed arsonist inmate Stone (Edward Norton), whose parole case he must soon rule upon.
Jack's failing is nominally one of the flesh, yet it's a spiritual and a moral rot that truly plagues him, with AM-dial Christian-radio blather providing an incessant backdrop for both Jack's and Stone's quests for deliverance. Director John Curran's sure hand is most evident in introductory passages that create unnerving dissonance from jumps between locations, time periods and incidents, as well as in an atonal soundscape of undulating chimes, drones and overly symbolic bee buzzes.
Despite a restrained, internalized performance by De Niro that refuses to turn Jack into an aged version of Cape Fear's Max Cady, as well as Norton taking a hoary, roughneck caricature and infusing him with unexpected blissed-out tranquility, the B-movie-tawdry, unpersuasive plotting undercuts the material's sober concerns about sin and salvation. At odds with its lofty and base instincts, Stone ultimately channels neither compellingly.