Holes (2003) / Adventure-Family

MPAA Rated: PG for violence, some language and thematic elements
Running Time: 111 min.

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Sigourney Weaver, Khleo Thomas, Henry Winkler, Patricia Arquette
Director:  Andrew Davis
Screenplay: Louis Sachar (based on his novel)

Review published November 24, 2005

Probably destined to be a classic family film due to its strange imagery and strong underlying themes, Holes is one of the bigger surprises of 2003. It's based on the "juvenile" novel by Louis Sachar, who also penned the screenplay for the big screen adaptation, this is really a film that will appeal to people of all ages. There's something for everyone: adventure, romance, comedy, horror, fantasy, and mystery. It's also a rare family film that isn't too corny to admit liking.

Relative newcomer Shia LaBeouf (Dumb and Dumberer, The Battle of Shaker Heights) gets the nod to carry most of the film, and it's quite a breakthrough for the young performer. He plays Stanley Yelnats IV, one of a line of Yelnats that suffers from a supposed curse placed upon them by the original Stanley way back when. This curse may be responsible for Stanley taking the rap for a pair of stolen shoes and getting sent out for 18 months at Camp Green Lake youth facility. But this is no summer camp, but a work camp, where the young men must each dig a hole five feet wide and five feet deep every day under the close scrutiny of the tough female warden (Sigourney Weaver, The Guys) and her two kooky assistants, Jon Voight (Ali, Tomb Raider) and Tim Blake Nelson (Cherish, The Good Girl). As if the grueling work isn't bad enough for Stanley, he has to watch out for the other bullies in the camp, the heat, and deadly yellow-spotted lizards. While they are all told that they are digging holes to build character and to change them from bad boys to good, it seems there are alternative reasons for the digging, which is told in a tall tale of how the lake became a desert.

Although the characters are more like caricatures, every role is cast extremely well, with many of the kids shining in their significant roles, and with another impressive performance by Voight as the slimy, redneck guard. Even the movie's flashback tale of Kissing Kate is fun to watch, and the ways in which the various destinies all tie together makes for wonderful storytelling of the highest order. It's all held together by director Andrew Davis, who has made a career directing more adult fare, namely, The Fugitive, Collateral Damage, A Perfect Murder, and Under Siege. Holes would seem like a challenge for Davis, as it's the first time he's had to direct a predominantly young cast, as well as direct in a mode of a Disney family film. He pulls it off without a hitch.

Even if you're skeptical that Holes may not be for you, I would still highly recommend it, as it does eventually grow on you, and by the end of the film, it's actually quite touching. A truly solid live-action Disney film that is unlike anything else out there, and in a year full of so many dismal action films, a breath of fresh air. While primarily intended for younger viewers, it's almost a must-see for any adults who think movies for teenagers with intelligence and imagination have dried up as much as Green Lake itself.  A reaffirming experience on many levels.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo