Starring Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Patricia Arquette, Khleo Thomas, and Tim Blake Nelson
My rating: ★★★★ stars
Brisk, intricately-plotted, thoughtful family film.
Poor Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf). Not only is his name Stanley Yelnats, but he’s falsely convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers and sent to a juvenile reform camp in the desert where the young prisoners must dig holes in the hot sun every day.
That’s the premise of the family film Holes, which is based on the young adult novel by Louis Sachar. Obviously, such a situation is out of the bounds of reality, but this film is so invitingly likeable that it’s easy to suspend our disbelief and to accept the film on its terms.
The Yelnats family has suffered for many generations ever since Stanley’s great-great grandfather back in Latvia stole a pig from the local fortune teller, Madame Zeroni (Eartha Kitt). Stanley’s journey in the film involves righting this historical wrong and bringing prosperity to the Yelnats clan.
The pig-stealing is not the only historical wrong in the story. The film features flashbacks to a century or so earlier, telling the story of injustice which led to a mild-mannered school teacher becoming the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette) and a once prosperous town becoming the desert where the detention camp is located.
The film presents powerful themes for a family film—that nothing can truly prosper from injustice, and that it’s never too late to right a wrong. Sadly, that’s not the way the world often works, but it’s worthwhile to present this ideal to younger viewers.
These themes help unite the story threads of the film. Also, the intricate plotting of the narrative wonderfully pulls these threads together at the end. The screenplay by author Sachar combines clever humor that would appeal to adults in the audience with broader humor to entertain younger viewers.
Holes avoid the false, cloying sentimentality and the simplistic, ill-conceived didacticism that plagues many films in the family film genre. It is too intelligent and thoughtful to present an easy moral or unearned emotion.
The performances are universally good. The producers wisely cast high caliber actors Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, and Tim Blake Nelson as the heavies. They’re able to make characters who could easily have become caricatures interesting to watch. LeBeouf, who, at the time, was best known for Even Stevens, a series on the Disney channel, displays ample ability to carry a movie, presaging his continued success as an actor as an adult. Khleo Thomas, who plays Zero, Stanley’s friend at the detention camp, hasn’t had as successful a career as LeBeouf, but his multi-faceted performance suggests he could have.
The snappy direction by Andrew Davis helps the nearly two hour film fly by. The momentum of the narrative is also aided by an excellent soundtrack. In fact, viewers—both children and grown-ups—should find the movie exhilarating despite the longish running time for a family film.
The delightful Holes is a rarity among films geared toward young audiences; it has appeal even for adults who don’t have children.