Monday, March 15, 2010

The Box (2009)

Like every Richard Kelly movie, The Box is full of heady ideas and messy execution.  And as was the case in Donnie Darko (2001) and Southland Tales (2006), there’s beauty in the madness.  Based on a short story called “Button, Button”, Kelly’s latest is essentially a prolonged Twilight Zone episode pushed over the edge – a box arrives on the doorstep of Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), and with it a strange man to explain its presence.  Inside the box is a button.  If the Lewis family chooses to press this button, they will be awarded $1 million.  But someone, somewhere in the world – someone they don’t know – will die.  They have 24 hours to decide.  Oh, and conveniently, their financial life is coincidentally in a shambles.

  What follows, theoretically, is a film of moral dilemma and consequences, philosophically concerned with what it is to “know” someone, and what that someone’s life is really, truly worth.  And to an extent, this is what we get.  We also get martians, mutilations, governmental conspiracies and unnatural super powers.  Because nothing with Kelly is as simple as it can or should be.

  The Box isn’t a case of spreading a clever premise too thin – it’s a case of forgetting what the premise is, and then cluttering it with too many other ideas worthy of their OWN movie.  There are too many threads left hanging, too many events, people, decisions and situations left unexplained.  “I’m in communication with those who control the lightning,” says Frank Langella’s box-wielding mastermind.  Whatever the hell that means.

  None of this is without purpose, mind you.  It’s all constructed to build a thick atmosphere of suspense, mystery and horror.  Heck, the movie is set in 1976 seemingly for the sole purpose of set design.  But at what point does Kelly lose track of what it is to create a movie, and what it is to tell a story?

  The same place, I’d argue, he loses touch with those definitions in his other films.  As a cinematic designer, Kelly is almost unmatched.  But as a storyteller – as someone who can mold big ideas into coherent and digestible narratives – he’s almost elementary.

  And as a director, he too often gets too little out of his players.  While Marsden may actually be at his best here, Diaz wanders sadly like a wounded doe, with heavy weights drooped around her shoulders, spirits, and talent.  She’s almost unbearable, and too present a flaw to overlook.

  Still, when Kelly hits his mark, he hits it hard.  The Box is at times a deeply moving and unsettling film.  It’s provoking enough, bold enough, smart enough and atmospheric enough to merit a viewing.  But it’s too deeply to ever really leave you satisfied.


Amy said...

Hmm, interesting. This is absolutely on my list of things to see as I tend to like the odder type of film. But it's good to know to keep my expectations at a minimum. Maybe it was my mood that day, but I really enjoyed Southland Tales, so I am used to muddledness, haha. Man, that's a bummer about Cameron, she did looked a little too "generic damsel in distress". I really feel like she's got some interesting performances left in her, too bad she didn't use it here. Thanks for the review!

DubMC said...

I'm one of the few who agrees with you on Southland Tales, which pretty much defines "beauty in the madness" to me. I recall Bru liking it too.
I felt mostly the same way about The Box. I enjoyed watching it, even if I recognize it as a flawed effort.


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