Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Dwayne Johnson,
Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake
Director: Richard Kelly
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40.1
Features: See Review
Length: 144 Minutes
Release Date: November 18, 2008
ďIt all ends tonight.Ē
When I first saw Donnie Darko, one thing was clear to me; writer/director Richard Kelly was trying to establish himself as the next David Lynch. That film became the quintessential cult classic of the decade, and it would give Kelly a great deal of creative freedom for his next project. And after seeing Southland Tales, I seriously wonder if David Lynch himself could even make sense of the movie.
Yes, this may just be the single strangest movie Iíve ever seen in my life, but itís also one of the most incredibly ambitious movies to ever exist. Mind you, Iím writing this review after having just seen it for the first time, and like Donnie Darko this is a film that will no doubt have to be experienced more than once to fully understand. But what I do know is that I am very overwhelmed by the ambitions of Kellyís vision.
Southland Tales is a satire of many sorts, but itís clear from the get go that Kellyís main target of satire is the Patriot Act. The film opens in 2005, where a video camcorder captures footage of a terrorist nuclear bomb attack in Texas. Cut to 2008, and the renewed powers of the Patriot Act have resulted in, of all things, the shutting down of America.
The country has basically been divided into two extremist groups; one far right, the other far left. Oil has become incredibly scarce, leading to the creation of a new fuel source called Liquid Karma. During the course of the story, what becomes clear is that the movie is a political satire set in an alternate futureÖthe kind you would see in a David Lynch-type film.
The story will bring together a number of characters from different walks of life. Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is an action movie superstar with political ties who has recently lost his memory. He is trying to sell a screenplay, which he has written with his girlfriend, adult film star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). It tells of the end of the world, and as the film progresses it appears that Boxerís screenplay has literally come to life, as all sorts of madness begin to occur.
Other key characters in the piece include L.A. cop Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), whom Boxer is paired with in order to research the role in his film project. Later we learn that Boxer is in fact married to Madeline Frost (Mandy Moore), whoís the daughter of a presidential candidate. And keeping close watch over everyone is the filmís narrator, an Iraq war veteran named Abilene (Justin Timberlake).
In this society, everyone is under surveillance. A national security force named USIdent, led by the wife of the same presidential candidate, listens in on everyone and everything. That force is the main target of a group of underground Neo-Marxists. And it turns out this same underground group is blackmailing Ronald, who has a twin brother, into stirring up a media storm designed to bring USIdent to its knees, a media storm that Boxer turns out to be the center of.
As far as plot explanation is concerned, thatís about as far as I can go with this movie. Itís not that I donít want to reveal anything else that happens, but rather I canít seem to make sense of further plot details without causing the reader to scratch his or her head in confusion. In the end, Southland Tales is a film you just have to experience and come up with your own theories.
But again, what must be appreciated is the vision of writer/director Richard Kelly. What he has done here is painted a futuristic society where all hope has been lost, the government literally controls the movement of everyone, and the existence of the human race is close to ending. And in the midst of depicting such a tragic state of society, Kelly has taken so many different tones and thrown them into a super blender. If anything, the ambition is the star and the all around driving force of Southland Tales.
Though I am a bit overwhelmed by the audacity and the strangeness of Southland Tales, I am also convinced that with a few more viewings, that it will become a true cult classic at the same level of Kellyís Donnie Darko. But for now, I still appreciate the ambitious qualities of the film, which truly exceed any other film released in 2007, except for maybe P.T. Andersonís brilliant epic, There Will Be Blood.
Bottom line, this is a difficult film to recommend. Some will love it, others will hate it. But if you were a fan of Donnie Darko, or are looking for some truly adventurous cinematic fare, then Southland Tales deserves your full attention.
Richard Kellyís apocalyptic vision looks even more stirring in HD. The already fantastic level of detail delivered by the DVD edition is made even more so through this amazing Blu-ray upgrade. Colors are even more incredibly solid, and both daytime and nighttime sequences (there are plenty of both) appear in the highest possible quality. Fantastic from beginning to end.
I was eager to experience this film with an uncompressed HD mix, and Iím happy to say that I was impressed with the results. Surround sound is present in countless sequences, and the unique music score provided by Moby sounds twice as effective. The climatic scenes of anarchy are indeed a standout, as are all the visual effects sequences.
This Blu-ray release from Sony contains two new additions. First off is a commentary track with Richard Kelly, which as one could imagine is quite informative. The other new bonus is The Prequel Saga Graphic Novel Gallery, which allows you to glance over the first three chapters in the complete story, which also may make the movie easier to understand. In addition, we get the remaining extras from the DVD release, including a featurette titled ďUSIdent TV: Surveilling the SouthlandĒ and an animated short titled ďThis Is the Way the World EndsĒ.
Though my mind is still wrapping around Southland Tales, I must say that the Blu-ray experience made me appreciate the film even more. Itís a messy film at times, but itís quite original and certainly never boring, and a movie experience worth taking no matter what your reaction ends up being.