**** (out of 5)
November 6, 2009
Cameron Diaz as NORMA LEWIS
James Marsden as ARTHUR LEWIS
Frank Langella as ARLINGTON STEWARD
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Richard Kelly
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The first time I heard of “Donnie Darko” was from this guy who used to work late nights at a Speedway near my house. Every time I went into the Speedway, he asked if I saw the movie. Eventually I did, and I immediately saw why people like this clerk at Speedway made Richard Kelly’s 2001 film a cult classic.
Then “Southland Tales” happened, and Richard Kelly’s name was mud… and for god reason.
Now, the independent director has redeemed himself in my eyes with “The Box.” Coming a little late to the cinemas, the week after Halloween which seems an afterthought for a thriller, “The Box” is a story in the tradition of “The Twilight Zone.” In fact, the original short story was written by Richard Matheson who wrote about a third of the original “Twilight Zone” teleplays, so this makes sense.
The story takes place in 1976, where a family receives a mysterious package one day. Inside is a black box with a red button on it. Later that day, a mysterious man named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) shows up and tells the husband and wife (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) that if they push the button by five o’clock the next day, someone in the world whom they don’t know will die, and they’ll be paid a million dollars.
There’s a lot more to this movie than this basic what-if morality tale. Sometimes obtuse, sometimes a little too obvious, the story goes in some pretty wild directions, taking note of human nature and the paranormal. The film goes out there. It goes way out there, and it’s definitely not for everyone. However, it was intriguing enough to keep me interested from the first scenes to the very end.
Richard Kelly is a fearless director, taking a long-shot chance that this movie will connect with an audience. And while there seems to be a re-edited director’s cut in the film’s DVD future, his vision is uncompromising, for better or for worse.
I was initially resistant to the “Twilight Zone” references because those relatively simple stories are easily dismissed as cinematic pulp fiction, but I found “The Box” to be a lot more. From a story standpoint, the film is very interesting. The characters make some choices that do make you think. But also the filmmaking aspects of the movie are quite well done.
Set in the 70s, the film really feels like a product of that era. Not only does Kelly use a stock that looks like it was shot in the 70s, but he also employs cinematic techniques (like optical zooms instead of camera movement) and a keen sense of the decade’s production values to achieve this. Even the soundtrack, which seems to be overbearing at times, has a definite 70s vibe to it.
The movie is not without its faults, of course. However, some of these problems are forgivable to me because they enhance the 70s feel to it. Awkward dialogue and less intrusive shots are examples of this.
Still, no amount of 70s nostalgia will make up for Cameron Diaz’s terrible accent, which is borrowed by others around her. Fortunately, James Marsden and Frank Langella balance things out a bit with some quality performances.
“The Box” is an enigma in modern Hollywood. I am actually pretty surprised it was allowed to make it through the system, though I am very happy that it did.