Director – Richard Kelly
Writer – Richard Kelly
Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Sean William Scott, Sarah Michelle Geller, Justin Timberlake
After writer/director Richard Kelly made such a deserved splash with his debut film Donnie Darko, which is a personal favourite, he has a massive reputation to live up to. Was it beginners luck? Was it a fluke? Is Southland Tales a worthy second feature? Well both yes and no.
I don’t think it’s humanly possible to give a short plot synopsis to this film as there is far too many characters and plot threads to do so. But the basic idea is there is an apocalypse fast approaching and a famous movie star by the name of Boxer Santaros (played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) might be the key to it all. A cop with a twin brother (Sean William Scott) is somehow involved with everything along with a controlling government, terrorist underground groups and an ex-pornstar turned talk show host (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar).
I have an instant bias when it comes to any film from the mind of writer/director Richard Kelly because of, like I said, my love for his debut film Donnie Darko. It rarely happens but on the basis of one film I will automatically see anything he makes afterwards. Ever since I heard the original cut of this film shown at the Cannes Film Festival was booed and there being a plethora of extremely negative reviews of even the new cut I was inevitably disheartened. I couldn’t quite believe that the man who created the wonder that is Donnie Darko could ever make anything less than a good film. After seeing Southland Tales I can certainly see why all of those people didn’t like the film but on a personal note I rather liked it.
Now let me just say that I didn’t completely love the film. There are many problems I had with it and primarily I agree with everyone that the film is a mess. But the general consensus with the negative opinions is that it’s too weird, random and insane for it’s own good but personally that’s what I think I liked about it. I am in the minority I am sure but it’s the films wackiness and lack of sense that made it fun and enjoyable. I general praise films that try to do something different instead of just being something ordinary and this film is included in that. It was literally like an amalgamation of a number of different dreams, weaved together without a pattern in mind. And as a result it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, including its predecessor.
Another way to describe the film would be this; it was literally like having a guided tour of the inside of an insane person’s brain by a crazy tour guide. Nothing makes much (or any) sense, even within the world of the film which in most eyes would be seen as a negative. But again I keep coming back to the fact that it’s for that exact fact that I liked the film.
Besides from the actual film itself and the nonsensical gear it is in the casting is also very strange. This is without a doubt one of the strangest casts ever to be assembled for a film. We have The Rock (now known in a more respectable manner as Dwayne Johnson), Sarah Michelle Geller in a surprisingly redeeming role for her and Sean William Scott aka Stifler from American Pie. We also a host of familiar faces, mainly comedic, including some from the aforementioned Donnie Darko. We have people from Amy Poehler, Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn to people like Christopher Lambert, Ling Bai and Miranda Richardson. If you can think of a weirder cast please let me know. But I think that the bizarre choice of casting is something that adds to the charm of Southland Tales.
What can be said largely in the film’s favour is how well made it is or more specifically the level of detail that’s gone into it by Kelly. The opening ten minutes in particular is fascinatingly detailed and it’s almost impossible to lap up everything happening screen as we get presented with multiple news coverage, shots of nuclear attacks and various different graphics representing strange information. If nothing else you can admire the film or more so it’s creator for having such a vivid imagination and the ability to put on film however the results turns out.
The film might have been a lot easier to digest if it well cut a little shorter. Since the original cut of the film was an hour longer than the widely released one you would think it would have been entirely satisfactory. But coming in at just under two and half hours I think it was still a little too long, my patience running out around the two hour mark. Perhaps an even shorter version will be released on DVD at some point and I can only seeing it working better.
On a pure quality point of view there may not be much of that in it’s purest form but I assure there is at least some quality to be found here. For most of the film it borders dangerously on the fence between nonsense and genius and from where I’m sitting there is at least a little of the latter. Unfortunately the film teeters too far on the former side of the fence and for the most part quality is hidden behind the sea of randomness.
So in the end Southland Tales is many things. Original, nonsensical, random, weird, pretentious, genius and many more things that would take up the entire internet trying to list. But what the film isn’t is boring, there’s always something going on to keep the eyes darting about from one end of the screen to the other and to keep the brain on edge. Some may see that as a bad thing while others, including myself, welcome that. Whatever you think of the film you can’t deny that it’s different from the norm and we all need some of that on occasion; why not with Southland Tales?