Saturday, 5 December 2009
REVIEW: The Box
Well Richard Kelly is in trouble now. I can see what he was trying to do, but you can say the same thing for Southland Tales, it doesn't make it any less of a disaster. The Box, I think, aspires to more cerebral sci-fi, and its admirable that it for the most part resisted the draw of violence and genuinely tried to explore its ideas, rather then just use its concept as an excuse for chase and action scenes, which is seemingly the way of modern sci-fi. But it misfired. And when a cerebral sci-fi movie misfires, and we haven't got any action or horror to distract and allow the movie to be enjoyed in a by the numbers way, Well frankly you're fucked.
The story sees a seemingly normal suburban couple receive a mysterious box on their doorstep, which their later told contains a button, and if they push it they''ll receive a million dollars, but also kill somebody. Moral quandaries and obscure mystery ensue. For The Box to really excel at what it wanted to be, Kelly really needed to create an a very strong atmosphere, or in other words there needed to be a very strong sense of visual and narrative control. If that had been done well, the movie would have been a lot more tense and powerful. But Kelly dropped the ball. Writing giddy sci-fi concepts is one thing, but without the nous to execute them it just becomes a creative and philosophical splurge. There may be some good ideas in there somewhere, but its hard to pick them out from the mess. Kelly is far from an accomplished visual director, but unless he finds a way to insert some coherence into his raw talent, he's got nowhere to go.
Similarly the relationship between our married leads Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden), was vital to the approachibility of the movie. Their journey is a joint one, and as a consequence the believability of the relationship, and the strength of it, is almost more invaluable to The Box then any of the sci-fi pontification. But Marsden and Diaz have no chemistry together, with Marsden giving a widely bland performance, and while Diaz is better, she doesn't do well opposite Marsden, her best scenes being the ones she share's with the villain of the piece. Their relationship becomes nothing more then a plot point when it should have been the heart and soul of the movie. If there is a saving grace, it would be Frank Langella's performance as villain in chief Arlington Steward. Its impressively restrained, in a role that many would have approached as a license to OTT, Langella stays true to the character and plays everything with a stiff upper lip. Its much more interesting that way. The film also has an impressively uncompromising ending, but this doesn't undo the cavernous lack of chemistry between Marsden and Diaz, or the lack of assurance in Kelly's direction, or even the quite weak CGI, which looks much cheaper then even something you might see on Supernatural.
And yet, I wish more movies like this would get made. It tried to do something and failed, and you have to call it on that, but the movie has ambition and a reason to exist beyond making money. That's something right?