John Curran's Stone (113 screens) opened early in October in limited release, undoubtedly with a plan to roll it out to more theaters as Oscar buzz built. Unfortunately, critics did not nibble -- it has a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes -- and it looks as if no such buzz will be coming. I found the film rich and fascinating with many layers of ideas worth unpacking. But looking at some of the negative comments, it appears that most critics got stuck during the film's first ten minutes and never recovered.
That ten minutes can be crucial to a film. The director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America, etc.) once told me something fascinating that I try to remember each time I sit down to a film. He said that audiences (critics included) tend to judge an entire film based on things they hear during the first reel. Not see, but hear. For example, if a character mentions that it's cold outside, people might call the film "chilly." I think Stone stumbles a bit out of the starting gate. When Edward Norton first appears, with cornrows and a tough-guy dialect, he appears suddenly, as if opening up a stage play. Thus, some critics complain of stagy and over-studied acting, even though the performances tend to smooth out over the course of the film.