Review: Southland Tales

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I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide

Donnie Darko is a difficult watch, a film that for some (or maybe most) is hard to warm to and leave the viewer confused about where it was all going and to what end. It’s a piece of work that informs Richard Kelly’s new film Southland Tales, a film that’s hard to pin down.

Southland Tales is a strange, capricious and downright odd film. It’s certainly a unique film and director Richard Kelly doesn’t sacrifice his ambition for audience comprehension, although it might have been wise to drop the intellectual posturing for some accessibility. It plays like a mix of Robert Altman and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Southland Tales is set after the U.S has been attacked (a nuclear bomb in Texas). The country has gone to war with the Middle East. Taking place in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008 as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is an action star suffering from amnesia.

His life is intertwined with Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an adult film star developing a reality television project and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Oh, and something about the fourth dimensional spilling open. It’s a dense, sprawling meta-narrative that’s hard to make sense of.

You’ll need to watch it several times (and several more after) to unravel Tale‘s narrative. It has plenty to say on a number of topics whether it’s rampant commercialism (Hustler advertised on a military tank), the sexualisation of advertising, the US Government infringing on privacy or a satirical commentary on US culture through the Krysta Now segments. Nevertheless you’d prefer it reigned its focus in as all these narrative strands threaten to escape from Kelly’s grasp.

It’s not helped by the feeling that the story is half a narrative. When a title card beckons chapter 4 you immediately wonder where chapter 1, 2 and 3 are. It’s a dense story made more frustrating by the sense that some understanding could have been gleaned if there were more backstory. It makes Lost seem accessible by comparison.

However if you’re willing to hold out until the drawn out finale, it is one that turns into a transcendental statement of our times if you can figure out what it all means. Some characters are on the periphery, others you wonder about their purpose and whether the film could have been better off if they were cut. Justin Timberlake may be the narrator but his character is superfluous to the plot.

Despite all that, it’s watchable if you have patience. It’s a mess – not quite a car crash that some people have made it out to be – but definitely a film that, while ambitious, is difficult to comprehend.

5/10

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Posted on 25/02/2011, in Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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