Sunday, April 24, 2011

Movie Review: Southland Tales (2006)

I just watched Southland Tales, starring a whole list of actors, notably Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.


Southland Tales
Year Released: 2006
Rated: R for language, violence, sexual material and some drug content

So this is a post-9/11 inspired movie that posits the question, What if a nuclear attack occurred in Texas instead? Set in 2008, the movie features ground wars in five countries and a draft, new government agencies tracking identities and everything people do, a political election that could take away even more American civil liberties, an experimental push for new energy sources, and a home-grown neo-Marxist movement fighting back digitally and physically against the regime.

And that's just the background.

The plot, narrated by Justin Timberlake's veteran-from-Fallujah character, focuses on a movie celebrity who is part of a burgeoning political scandal, and all the intricate side stories that interweave to kidnap him, wipe his memories, rescue him, get his memories back, and ultimately decide his fate. Throughout it all, each character has their own motivations that manage to spring some surprise betrayals and decisions on the viewer, while keeping a cohesive story line from a bunch of ideas that could have easily turned into a hot mess.

My impressions:

As the last line was read and the credits began to roll, my first thought was, "Ah. So this was supposed to be A Prayer for Owen Meany for the modern age..."

One place where the film faltered was in its political message. Anyone with eyes picked up on the warning against letting fear override civil liberties in modern America. Unfortunately, about half way through, the technology involved and the scale of the plot becomes so grandiose and sci-fi (while still very interesting) that by the end of the film, you kind of forget that this was current day political commentary.

But the stories unfold in such a way that I forgave its social activist ham-handedness and just embraced the flow of the narrative while playing Identify the Actor. It had a lot of familiar names and faces in a large cast where most people got some good screen time in. Side plots that seemed only peripherally related in the beginning are neatly tied in later on, even as the main plot seems to take flight. Timberlake was particularly creepy as the narrator, while Johnson and Scott seemed a little flat. That could be because the movie has a more serious tone and not a lot of slapstick at all, despite having at least two SNL alumni on the list.

Overall, I found it an interesting movie to digest and pick apart as it went, though fans of action movies may find it slow and fans of intrigue may find it too easy to read.

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