Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brief Film Review - "Holes"

Okay, time to start living up to an earlier promise to at least attempt to say something useful about every film I see. These will almost always be films I've checked out on DVD, since I never seem to get around to seeing films in the theater anymore (and there's very little out that I care about that much).

Holes (2003) was adapted for the screen by Louis Sachar from his own prizewinning (and very popular among the pre-teen set) 1998 novel of the same name. This one got great reviews when it came out, even among discriminating, intelligent critics like those at Salon, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and the Chicago Reader. So I felt pretty confident I was in for a treat.

Well, I can happily report it is indeed terrific, and far stranger and more resonant than I expected. Holes is the story of one Stanley Yelnats, a young teenager mistakenly convicted of stealing a pair of shoes belonging to a famous basketball player. Stanley is sent to a prison camp in the desert where he and the other young inmates are forced to work in the blazing sun digging 5' deep and 5' across holes in the hard desert floor as a way to "build character."

Holes is also a story about a family curse dating back to Latvia, a famous Old West Bandit named "Kissing Kate," buried treasure, "God's Thumb," and an inventor (Stanley's father) trying haplessly to develop an antidote to foot odor. If this all sounds a bit wacky, I assure you it's really not; Holes is, at its heart, both a serious story of friendship triumphing over adversity and a sly commentary on the way the criminal justice system breeds abuse.

That's not to say the film isn't both entertaining and funny. Holes unfolds deliberately, spending a lot of its time observing the way the other juvenile inmates interact with each other and their "caretakers" (Jon Voight, wonderfully cracked, simpering Tim Blake Nelson, and a deliciously venal Sigourney Weaver as the warden). Best of all, Holes avoids both the treacly sentimentality and the ironic, "hipper-than-thou" detachment so endemic in children's films, especially Disney product. The film plays for real and it plays like it matters -- and it works beautifully. Highly recommended.

Addendum: On watching this with my 9-year-old son.

My son hasn't seen many films not geared to very young kids, and this one gave him quite a ride! He spent some of the film watching intently, other parts leaping up and down, and still other parts (scary parts include a racially-motivated lynching and a death-by-lizard) hiding behind the couch. At one point, he said, "I don't know if this is a good film for me. It's kind of weird." (I LOVE that he's sensitive and aware enough to be able to make these judgements out loud.)

I paused it and asked him if he wanted to turn it off. He thought about it for a moment and decided, "We can just watch a little bit more and see what happens." Needles to say, we watched the rest of the film and he liked it a lot -- although I think if he watches it again in a few years he'll understand it better. But it IS quite a ride!

1 comment:

Geoff Allen said...

Sometime your son will have to read the book. It's a great book. I think the film was about as good an adaptation as possible, but as always, a lot had to be left out to make a movie. My kids, my wife, and I all enjoyed the book.

And in case you didn't know, Sachar makes a cameo appearance in the film. He's the bald guy who buys an onion from Sam.