movie review by
Gary Johnson


(© 1998 Mandalay Entertainment. All rights reserved.)

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At one time, director Sidney Lumet was one of the most widely respected filmmakers in Hollywood. But his star has slipped noticeably during the past decade, after box-office duds such as A Stranger Among Us and Guilty as Sin. His newest movie, Gloria, probably won't restore his image.

Gloria isn't exactly a bad movie, but it's such a thoroughly mediocre movie that it's difficult to believe the same director responsible for Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and Prince of the City could be responsible for this undistinguished, thoroughly unnecessary remake of John Cassavetes' 1980 character-driven thriller.

Much of the burden for whether this movie works or doesn't work rests in the hands of leading actress Sharon Stone. Gena Rowlands played the lead role in the original version, and her portrayal won her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. She gave a gritty but surprisingly poignant performance. While Sharon Stone isn't exactly bad (although she is indeed bad in several scenes), she lacks the weight and gravity to pull off this role. When Gena Rowlands pulled a gun, you could believe she meant to use it. When Sharon Stone pulls a gun, she simply becomes hysterical. (Lumet doesn't even attempt to recreate the great set piece scene from the Cassavetes version where Rowlands pulls a gun and fires as a car bears down on her.)

Stone was quite good in Martin Scorsese's Casino, in a cheap, trashy sort of way. And the words "cheap" and "trashy" are certainly part of her character in Gloria (when she leaves prison in the opening scene, she must follow the prison's "wear it in, wear it out" policy by donning a flashy black dress held together with huge safety pins), but none of her past seems to have had much of an effect upon her. Stone could have learned a lot from Cathy Moriarty, who plays a small role in Gloria. Moriarty is perfection. She disappears into her role completely as a silky, call girl madam. Meanwhile Stone's growls and tears are false.

Lumet's version of Gloria provides several improvements on the original Gloria. Child actor Jean-Luke Figueroa is a major improvement on the hopelessly stiff child actor who played opposite Gena Rowlands. And Lumet provides a funny sequence where Gloria first takes possession of the child and protects him from the crooks who threaten to kill him (as they did his entire family). She holds the crooks at gun point while she forces them to strip--"underwear too." The boy gathers the clothes and heaves them out a window while the crooks look alternately humiliated and proud.

But the movie ultimately rests on Stone's performance, and she's no Gena Rowlands. She's quite good when she asks for assistance from Moriarty and confesses that she always wanted to be like her. With Moriarty's help, she ends up decked out in furs for her meeting with the head racketeer, played by George C. Scott (who looks frail and immobile, although his eyes shine). And Stone is quite good in the movie's final scenes when she must deal with her own indecision about leaving the child at a Catholic school for boys. But Stone never completely gets under the skin of Gloria, and as a result, the movie is never completely satisfying.

Also disappointing is the central gimmick that sets the plot in motion--a floppy disk containing incriminating evidence on Gloria's old beau (Jeremy Northam). Certainly someone must have warned the filmmakers that a floppy disk can easily be copied and the information on it posted around the world. But the characters act as if they've never heard of copying or downloading files. Oh, well.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]