Leo Gregory as Brian Jones
Paddy Considine as Frank Thorogood
David Morrissey as Tom
Monet Mazur as Anita Pallenberg
Tuva Novotny as Anna Wohlin
Amelia Warner as Janet
Ben Whishaw as Keith Richards
Luke de Woolfson as Mick Jagger
Will Adamsdale as Andrew Loog Oldham
James D. White as Charlie Watts
Directed by Stephen Woolley
This weak biodrama ignores most of Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones’ musical contributions to the band in favor of extrapolating on conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
Brian Jones (Leo Gregory) spends the last few months of his life living in a villa in the British countryside, his only companions being various girlfriends, his drugs and alcohol, and a handyman named Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), who becomes his friend and confidante.
After many years as Neil Jordan’s long-time producer, Stephen Wooley has decided to try his hand at directing, working from a script by James Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade based on the last months in the life of Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones. It’s a noble effort, because Brian Jones has been almost completely forgotten in the near four decades since his death, but it really isn’t the movie most might expect.
After a black-and-white opening sequence with Jones trying to find the Stones a gig in their early days, it cuts to the night of July 2, 1969, when his body was found in the pool of his country manor. Three months earlier, Jones is introduced to Frank Thorogood, a tough handyman, hired to renovate the manor however Jones wants, by the Stones’ road manager Tom Keylock (David Morrissey). Thorogood is not accustomed to Jones’ excessive lifestyle, but he quickly gets sucked into Jones’ hard-to-resist temptations, becoming the musician’s personal assistant and confidante, as well as imbibing in his drugs and alcohol. Their relationship is tenuous because Jones often treats Thorogood like an indentured servant rather than a friend.
Most biodramas take some artistic license to make them more interesting as films, but “Stoned” takes it one step further. Back in the day, there were many conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Brian Jones, and the movie spends a lot of time addressing the conjecture of what might have happened in the months beforehand. Although the film often flashes back to the pivotal moments in Jones’ past with the Stones, which ultimately led to his exile in the country, Woolley seems more interested in exploring the issues that led to Jones’ break-up with the Stones and his death at the age of 27, mostly ignoring the musical creativity that Jones brought to the Stones’ blues-driven sound.
In practicality, one would assume that being kicked out of the Stones might have led to Jones drowning himself in more ways than one. Instead, the movie follows the theories that Thorogood was involved in killing Jones in a rage after being fired. Over the course of the movie, Jones repeatedly taunts Thorogood with the beautiful women he sleeps with. One drunken night, he even convinces Thorogood to do push-ups to impress one of his bored girlfriends, making it fairily obvious which direction Wooley is going. It’s certainly a convenient plot device since the only two who could disprove it are both dead. When the film suddenly turns into a crime thriller, it’s that much more obvious how badly it’s lost its way.
For the most part, the movie is not about the Stones and the scenes with them are few and far between, except to set-up a competitive conflict between Jones and Keith Richards, who supposedly stole Jones’ Swedish girlfriend, played by Monet Mazur. The actors who play the various Stones have absolutely no presence on screen whatsoever, and it doesn’t make sense that Keith and Mick would be lacking in the charisma and personalities for which they’re best known.
Maybe this was done because Leo Gregory, who was very good in last year’s “Green Street Hooligans,” just doesn’t quite cut it as Jones. He plays the part too fey and soft, and it’s impossible to feel any much-needed empathy for him, and he mainly comes across as a pompous and arrogant prick. Of course, that comes with the narcissistic territory of being a rock star, but you never are sure whether you’re supposed to feel bad for Jones’ situation, because for the most part, he really deserves most of it.
As hard as it is to relate to the former Stone, Paddy Considine’s Frank Thorogood isn’t that much better, because the Irish actor is basically playing the same mopey British character he’s done in almost every movie since “In America.” David Morrissey does a good turn as Tom in his few scenes, but most of the actresses seem to be there for little more than titillation i.e. showing off their ample breasts. Although a certain amount of nudity would probably be expected in any movie about the Stones, it would have been nice if the women were fleshed out internally as much as they were externally.
The writing just isn’t that great, and except for the flashback scenes, which stylistically recreate the look and feel of the times as captured in famous pictures of the Stones, the film is very poorly shot, using a grainy look that really takes you out of the era. Although it’s nice hearing some of the songs from the period in the soundtrack, the laziness and lack of creativity that surrounds this movie is all the more obvious when the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” kicks in during the drug sequence. There’s little question in my mind that this movie would have been better in the hands of a more experienced director.
The Bottom Line:
It’s long past due that Brian Jones gets a bit of attention, but Stones fans wanting to learn more about the life of the Stones’ early creative force may want to look elsewhere. “Stoned” is nothing more than a tawdry fictionalized account of Jones’ last days, ignoring his contributions to rock to focus on the sex, drugs and controversy, usually taken to ridiculous excess.
Stoned opens in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco on Friday.