Movie review

Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight
Patricia Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson

Director : Andrew Davis

HolesAfter a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is mistakenly accused of theft, something which his father (Henry Winkler) and grandfather - both also called Stanley due to a family tradition based on the fact that Yelnats is Stanley spelt backwards - blame on an ancient curse placed on the family many years ago.
    As punishment for the crime he is accused of, Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake where he encounters 'The Warden' (Sigourney Weaver) and her two downtrodden assistants, Mr Sir (Jon Voight) and Dr Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), who are there to supervise Stanley and his fellow 'inmates'. This mixed bunch of characters, each go by a nickname appointed them by the others - as they carry out their one duty whilst at the camp; to dig holes.
    Though 'The Warden' and her cohorts insist that it is 'to build character', no-one really understands the reason behind the digging of the holes, or indeed why such interest is shown when any of the boys find something 'interesting' while they are digging. As the mystery deepens, Stanley slowly starts to understand what is going on and what his fate is.
    Stanley's tale is interwoven with two other stories - the tale of his great grandfather and how the ancient curse came to be placed on his family, and the tale of a teacher (Patricia Arquette) who is spurned into a life as an outlaw bent on revenge as a consequence of her love for a humble onion seller (Dule Hill). As the film moves on, the three stories become more and more entwined.

Holes is based on the hugely successful, award-winning book by Louis Sachar, who also wrote the film's screenplay. This was a mistake. Whilst Holes is undeniably a clever and intriguing story, the book by its very nature allowed Sachar to explore his idea as elaborately and as descriptively as he chose. However, the language of film is very different, and the benefit of someone other than a book's author adapting it for the screen is that they are likely to find it much easier to do away with large sections of the original story if its adaptation warrants it. By writing the screenplay to his own book - this being the first screenplay he had ever written - Sachar has visibly struggled to let go of certain facets of the story, which since he wrote the book will have seemed to him essential. To this extent, it feels as if too much story is being presented to us, and there's a sense that this was a film created largely in the editing room.
    At times Holes is overly complex, particularly for what is essentially a kids film, and the formation of some of the characters also suffers. Whilst LaBeouf gives a very balanced and enjoyable performance, certainly marking himself out as one to watch for the future, the rest of the characters seem decidedly one dimensional, especially Stanley's companions at the camp.
    Even Weaver, Voight and Nelson, whilst not bland, just don't seem to convince, especially when compared to some of their former performances. An interesting parallel would be 101 Dalmatians, where the chemistry between Glenn Close's Cruella De Vil and her two inept sidekicks is extremely funny and works very well. Here, the relationship between the three falls somewhat flat.

Whilst Holes is an at times a charming and on the whole entertaining outing, it seems to be lacking in the sense of fun that you would normally expect from a Disney film, and as so often happens, this is another example of a classic story being poorly translated onto the big screen . . . which is a shame.

:: Philip Goodfellow

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