Donnie Darko is one of my favourite films of all time. It definitely deserves a place in my eternal top ten. But does the fact that I can't honestly say that I totally understand the ins and outs of all the time travel element of the movie mean that I shouldn't enjoy it just as much as my other entries? At the end of the day it's a well structured, excellently executed high concept movie and I loved it!
So with Mr Darko under his hat it was time for writer/director Richard Kelly to come up with an equally good and entertaining follow-up. That difficult second album. And 6 years on he bought us Southland Tales, a story of a politically strained dystopia, with some high concept elements thrown in of course.
I'd read a bunch of reviews prior to my first viewing of Southland Tales and like many people, who were yet to sit this experience, felt disappointment. The reviews that the movie was messy and over-complicated and even in some cases self-indulgent were too commonplace. And I was even shocked to think that reading these reviews were somewhat influencing my opinions of the film without me even stepping through those cinema doors. Something I never let myself fall victim to.
Kelly's follow-up is due for release on DVD stateside and here in the UK later this month (on the 31st). So there isn't a better time to revisit and more importantly review this unsettlingly difficult to pigeon-hole experience.
Southland Tales is an ensemble piece set 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 (played by Dwayne Johnson) is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now (played by the hotter-than-ever Sarah Michelle Gellar/Prinze), an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
The whole movie is narrated by Justin Timberlake who plays Private Pilot Abilene and already I hear cries of WTF - who the hell was responsible for casting here, but I'll have you know that there are some pretty solid performances from the whole ensemble here (and man it is one hell of an ensemble). All 3 leads Dwayne, Sarah and Seann all perform fantastically. Well over what I would of genuinely expected from them. They all feel so fitted to the whole movie that the casting was inspired. Even a small appearance from Jon Lovitz seemed totally justified.
To say the film itself is complex is an understatement. Let's just say this is not particularly easy-viewing. Close the curtains, lock the doors, and eat brain food before attempting to absorb everything that's happening here in this intertwined tale. Two or three viewings may even be advised as there's so much going on. There is a monster ensemble cast of various quirky characters which all add to the overall experience of the movie. And don't think for one second the movies simply going to deliver wave after wave of political expression and unfathomable psycho-babble. The movie, surprisingly, is quite tongue-in-cheek and humourous on occassions.
The semi-conclusion to the slightly overlong flick made sense to me. It was a long time coming and I often felt that maybe it wasn't going to come at all. But it did, and for all intents and purposes it left me satisfied. And when a film feels like it can't be sequelised in any form then I feel even more content.
Following some minor head scratching it all comes together by the end of the movie and the questions that feel unanswered can be picked up possibly on a further viewing. Even if Kelly's project here was partially self-indulgent - so what! The guy is a genuine talent and I don't give a rats who knocks him because we need more Kelly's making films because I'll be honest I'm sick to death of seeing the same rehashed crap again and again, and again. It's the same thing that keeps me coming back to Lost week after week. Blow my mind, confuse the fuck out of me, give me something to take away and think about on my own terms and bring it on.