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The Box

The reviews for The Box, or the several of which I’ve read thus far, have clearly side-stepped any kind of conviction about the film. There’s been a lot of grumpy fence-sitting (‘Hey, film-makers should be allowed to push the boundaries, cut them some slack, who cares whether it makes any sense or not!’) and risible ‘It’s weird – it must be good!’ pronouncements. The reviews that, a quick scour of trusty Metacritic later confirm, give the film a hammering also have a whiff of linear-loving entrenchment about them. My take is: the film is poor and the director of the brilliant Donnie Darko has no ideas left.

Richard Kelly might not even disagree: he clearly has a compulsion for film and the ability to construct fantastic scenes (even amidst the largely awful Southland Tales, which is admirably bizarre but less-admirably empty) but he has to ask himself, now, whether or not he can hit it again. Perhaps he’s best flitting around upper-class TV shows as a kind of within strict limits maverick of mediocrity.

The plot: Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are visited by a glaringly untrustworthy chap offering them an ‘interesting’ bargain: press the box he has brought and collect a million dollars, with someone, somewhere meeting their demise as a direct result. Not much of a catch to keep you over-deliberating, you may think – ethical questions surely circumvented by the money hungry amongst us, or those wanting our protagonists to get way the hell on with it and get to the good stuff – but they ponder and ponder, and the film rests on them taking the plunge and whacking said button of death and untold riches. And they do, of course, turn the other cheek and then fret. And with good reason. It’s just that the nature of the upshot and what we then see as they realise the magnitude of their mistake is either predictable or of forgettable Twilight Zone proportions.

There is an internal logic and an incalculable authenticity to many strange films. Or even just an imperceptible but indeniable sense of bona fide weirdness that validates any warping of narrative, tone or atmosphere, and that simply cannot be affected. The Box doesn’t have any of this. It really is just weird for the sake of it and any attempts to incorporate manufactured peculiarity evoke rampant dislocation and even guffaws. I like the idea of a director trying something different as much as the next man. But this is curio TV at best, something to mention to someone in passing as a watchable oddity you caught post-midnight, not forked out a few quid and 90 minutes of your life for. 

So the problem with The Box is: there’s nothing in it. The performances are fine before they need to change gears, at which point they clank and crunch and all go off in different directions at different juddery speeds, ditto Kelly. Frank Langella is left languishing in a series of Kubrick-cast-off sets, the one component still working full-tilt and delivering a lost message, an eerily game counterpoint to the capitulation elsewhere: he’s superb but Kelly wastes him by his adherence to a daft premise that never knows when to let go. Kelly probably realises you’ve got to go all-out with this kind of material and follow-through with your punches – fine in theory, but when the car is speedily slaloming through too-tame suburban gardens on the way to the precipice, it’s best to clamber out and rescue something. If not your career.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary Gilbert
    April 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Hee hee Lee.I do love your reviews even if it only seems to be me reading them. That metaphor at the end about the car is particularly funny.Cameron Diaz is clearly reaching the age where bimbetude is not enough and `Me actor’ is beginning to kick in – you can tell that just by the paisley scarf and the anguished look. Please keep up the good work. The Box hasn’t reached Brittany yet. French cinema is currently dominated by Carry On style films that are hugely popular here and are quite breathtakingly bad. French cinema intellectual? Zat eez a beeg mitt!

    • May 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Mary, even if only you ever read them, that’s absolutely fine. Your responses are worth any toil! I love writing this stuff to be fair, it’s all good. You always figure out exactly how you felt about a film by getting it down, so it’s pretty useful. Yeah, Diaz does seem to be overly consious of making the transition from comedy fluff merchant to Oscar-eager thesp. Though The Box ain’t the way to go! Really, by the way? French cinema – which has auteurs that are lucky recipients of government-aided funds – is rife with a slew of Mr Bean type stuff? Hey, maybe that’s better than some of the over-abundantly unauthentic twaddle we get every year – gangsters, feral kids, airbrushed multi-culture, unhorrific horror with plummy protagonists etc.

  2. Mary Gilbert
    May 5, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I don’t know if you know this already Lee, but the film that broke all box office records here in France a couple of years ago was `Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’. It’s a soft centred and quite amusing story of a post office `fonctionnaire’ who messes up his job in the South of France ( a scene with a real laugh out loud moment) and as punishment is sent to the land of the Ch’tis around the Pas de Calais which is I suppose, the equivalent of being sent from Bournemouth to Middlesborough. There’s an awful lot of jokes about the weather and accents – the Ch’tis lisp all their words so lots of opportunities for punning. Although our French is good this got a bit lost when we saw it in the cinema and watching recently on DVD with English subtitles revealed a lot of jokes we’d missed the first time. It’s a good natured harmless little film and so it was a bit odd to be surrounded by a French audience doubled up with mirth. Still there remain many things about the French that are still a little puzzling. There doesn’t seem to be much film censorship here either although very violent or sexually explicit films have a cautionary `not for the under 12’s’. I was a bit suprised to see two toddlers in the next row when we went to see the animated Beowulf which is quite scary and violent.
    A French film I can recommend with the incomparable Vince Cassel is the two parter Mesrine based on the true life story of a 50’s gangster who led a quite extraordinary life before being gunned down in Paris . Gangsters really do seem to have some heroic status here I think because the French en masse are extremely bolshie and anti -authority. However individually, in my experience the French won’t speak out or rock the boat. They are far more timid about expressing an opinion that the Brits.

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