TORONTO (Reuters) - "Stone," an ambiguous and dark drama premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, may not be an easy story for some audiences , but the nuanced tale was a draw for acting heavyweights Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.
"I always liked the script," De Niro said of "Stone," which deals with hypocrisy and guilt, and is set in the rapidly decaying environs of post-recession Detroit.
"I thought the whole thing had an interesting tone and feel about it," the Oscar winner told Reuters in an interview.
De Niro plays Jack Mabry, a prison parole officer just days from retirement who has to deal with the manipulative Gerald "Stone" Creeson as one of his final assignments.
Played menacingly by Norton with cornrows and a hard stare, Stone is not above using his sexy wife Lucetta -- model-actor Milla Jovovich in a shift from her "Resident Evil" action films -- as the bait to force Jack to recommend an early release.
However, the line between criminal and upstanding citizen blur as Stone undergoes a spiritual transformation, while Jack's encounters with Lucetta pressure his already decaying marriage and force him to compromise his own principles.
None of the characters are easy to sympathize with, and the film's ending could best be described as ambiguous.
"I think that most of the films that I've really been affected by in my life have been the ones that really left me with a lot of questions in my head, a lot to think about," Norton told Reuters.
The pairing of De Niro and Norton, considered among the greats of their respective acting generations, reunites the co-stars of the 2001 heist flick "The Score."
But Norton said it took some convincing to get him to sign on. "At first the script was a little bit elusive for me. I didn't really get it," until director John Curran won him over, he said.
"But I definitely thought it was great to work with somebody a second time. (De Niro) has a very particular way of working."
De Niro -- known for immersing himself completely in roles, such as when he gained 60 pounds to play boxer Jake La Motta in "Raging Bull" -- will often go off script in the middle of a scene to get a more authentic response from his co-stars.
"He really makes you earn scenes. He can be very resistant to doing things that just are following scripts. If you don't earn the response, he kind of won't give it to you," Norton said. "It's very bracing, actually.
While the scenes with Norton and De Niro might be a delight for film buffs who enjoy a good old acting showdown, the film, which hits theaters October 8 has earned mixed initial reviews.
Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter calls it an "unconvincing melodrama that few viewers are willing to buy.", while Erik Childress of Cinematical says the film is "thrilling for what we're left to ponder afterwards more than any suspense inherit in the interaction during it."
Norton admitted that moviegoers looking for the characters to redeem themselves at the end of the film may come away disappointed, but he said the film's strength lies in its ambiguity and unanswered questions.
"I see a lot of really crappy movies that are making sure you understand that redemption took place and they just put me to sleep," he said.
"Everything doesn't get redeemed in life, and I don't think that's the only thing that makes a movie have an impact."
Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Paul Simao