Uh, exactly why is this film getting such good reviews? It’s a perfectly serviceable movie for young adults, it’s intended audience (the film being based upon Louis Sachar’s National Book Award and Newberry Medal winning novel of the same name; Sachar also wrote the script for the film), and the tweeners in the audience today seemed to enjoy it, but let’s just say I was expecting more from the film when AO Scott referred to “morally complex characters” in his NY Times
review (exactly why was I listening to AO Scott again?; though I was kind of teased by the film’s opening, with one of the kids intentionally allowing himself to be bitten by a rattlesnake, to escape his appointed task, digging a hole five feet deep, and five feet in diameter, in order to build character, a task called both “Sisphyean” and “Kafkaesque” by reviewers). The closest we get to moral complexity is in Patricia Arquette’s character, Kate Barlow, a sympathetic, late 19th century bandit and killer, motivated by vengeance over the lynching of her great love, Sam (Dule Hill of West Wing
), an African-American onion grower and handyman. Everyone else pretty much falls pretty neatly into either the good or the evil camp (even in the camp’s assembly of juvenile delinquents, everyone, ultimately, has a heart of gold). I think the reviewers are confusing quirkiness with complexity, because for all practical purposes, the characters of the Warden (Sigourney Weaver, who actually was very interesting, running the gamut from pragmatic kindness to icy menace), the camp overseer Mr. Sirs (Jon Voight, seriously hamming it up), and the buffoonish “counselor” Dr. Pendanski (Timothy Blake Nelson) are pretty close to some kind of neo-Dickensian character. And to top it off, the Warden is the descendant of the man who led Sam’s lynching.
Ah yes, you see, everything, and I mean everything is connected in the film, which leaves no stone unturned, and takes time to carefully dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s.” It’s amazing how few loose ends are left dangling by the end of the movie. This is a movie that relies heavily on intertwined fate, which is actually pulled of pretty successfully, even if I was able to figure out all the connections half way through. The meat of the movie centers on the developing friendship between the wrongly accused Stanley Yelnats IV (the film’s main character) and Zero, a relationship that can ultimately be traced back to relations in 19th century Latvia (exactly how Eartha Kitt could be found in 19th century Latvia is besides the point; I guess she was supposed to be a gypsy or something). Going through all the connections between these two characters, as well as every other narrative event in the film would take forever; to sum it up, I would like to quote my favorite line from Keith Phipp’s review in The Onion
: “With so many overlapping timelines and intersecting stories, Holes
begins to resemble a failed collaboration between Atom Egoyan and the Nickelodeon network.”
By the end, everything comes up roses. Proper justice is meted out, century old curses are lifted, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good guys, well let’s just say they are rewarded, a lot; of course, the film, which has skirted on the edge of sentimentality all along, veers right into a head-on collision by the end. I guess it’s a testament to Andrew Davis’s journeyman direction, some good performances, and Sachar’s screenplay that I didn’t care that much anymore, and so I left the screening moderately entertained (I only paid $3 to see it too), but by no means blown away. I would have probably been better served by my initial emotions regarding the movie, which was anger at the harsh Texas judicial system (of course, the film assigns the blame for the systematic abuse and corruption of the juvenile work camp to individuals, and some righteous Texas Rangers set everything all right, how nice, since the system was apparently ignorant of the conditions all along). But instead, I’m pretty much forgetting the film as I type this.