This is a whale of a tall tale that unfurls intelligent surprises.
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
“Holes” is a wonderful surprise for every age, so be careful not to miss it if you are between fourteen and eighty. Twelve-year-olds will see the book they love unfold in faithful detail, and on that level this is a movie of intricate connections – past and present. Director Andrew Davis wanders gracefully among family generations and family lore, pulling things together gradually, one clue at a time.
The movie is an allegory that tells its story with symbols of friendship, racism, honor, justice, and any number of nuances of human behavior, all delivered with subtlety; no heavy hands work here to pound the lessons home. Louis Sacher’s marvelous story is directed, acted, and filmed with inspiration and skill. The filmmakers knew there was no room for error in adapting a beloved children’s book.
Stanley Yelnats (Shia Le Beouf, aka Caveman) is sentenced to 18 months in the Camp Green Lake juvenile detention home for stealing a pair of celebrity baseball shoes. In a terrific introduction, an incalculable stretch of desert fills the screen. This forbidding landscape is covered with perfect holes, each 5’ deep by 5’ wide, “Your shovel is your measure, boys.” They are there by order of Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) who barks “You take a bad boy, make him dig holes all day in the hot sun and you’ve got a good boy.” And so we watch Caveman, Zero, Armpit, Squid, X-Ray, Magnet, and Zig-Zag dig perfect circles in the parched, cracked earth.
Once upon a time this sand was a beautiful lake that was the scene of a terrible injustice. After that day it never again rained in Green Lake, Texas. The film explores that tragedy and the curse that has lain on the Yelnats family for three generations. This is a whale of a tall tale that unfurls intelligent surprises.
How often is a fine story served by a grand cast? Consider Sigourney Weaver as Warden of the desert prison – just right as the bitter, sarcastic granddaughter of a man who may have left a buried secret she is determined to find. Watch for Eartha Kitt as Madame Zeroni, the powerful elder who puts a curse on an entire family. If Jon Voight seems to overplay his role as Warden Walker, I was assured by a 12-year old friend that “he was exactly that way in the book, exactly.” Voight’s Mr. Sir is a true sniveler. Patricia Arquette (Kissin’ Kate Barlow) and Dule Hill (Sam) are outstanding as the central couple in the early family history.
All the young actors make their characters come alive without overplaying in the slightest. The two boys who may move you greatly are Khleo Thomas and Shia Le Beouf who build the friendship of Zero and Stanley into the sweet hearted core of the picture. Throughout all the imaginative symbolism, there is a compelling authenticity to the characters. We don’t disbelieve; we take flight.
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