During a three day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an action star stricken with amnesia meets up with a porn star who is developing her own reality TV project, and a policeman who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
Southland Tales is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Boxer Santaros is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now, an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and Ronald Taverner, a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Written by
The Doomsday Scenario Interface in the beginning of the movie resembles the TV interface in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997). Verhoeven's next film after "Troopers" was to be Hollow Man (2000), a title pretty close to T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men", from where Justin Timberlake's lines "This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the worlds end. Not with a bang, but with a whimper." with the last line reversed so it reads, "not with a whimper, but with a bang." See more »
In the introductory titles, as Pilot Abilene narrates, there is a white map of the United States that implodes towards the screen as he says "Interstate travel visas were required for each state." Right before the map implodes, you can see that the state of Wisconsin is unaligned. See more »
Private Pilot Abilene:
In the aftermath of nuclear attacks in Texas, America found itself on the brink of anarchy.
[overlapping news reports]
Private Pilot Abilene:
World War III had begun.
Private Pilot Abilene:
The accelerated conflict in the Middle East placed significant restrictions on American access to oil. Alternative fuel sources became a lucrative commodity. Americans were transfixed by the terrorist's threat, and were willing to prevent another attack by any means necessary. Military checkpoints were erected at each State line. ...
[...] See more »
After the credits, a logo appears of a thumbprint over an American flag with the words: "DON'T TOUCH ME" See more »
Summing up "Southland Tales" is a really, really hard thing to do. If I had to use a word to describe it, I would have to go with "art." Art is something that can spark a lot of debate without being very political, and can be viewed from completely different perspectives and get completely different reactions. Art means that some people will flat-out adore this film, and some will flat-out despise it.
To be honest, I think I only understand about 20% of what I saw on-screen, if that. This film is WAY more complex than Richard Kelly's directorial outing, "Donnie Darko." And I absolutely respect it for that. In a time when the most popular movies are the most simple, this movie was made knowing that its audience would not be a large one, and threw away all movie norms and was willing to be one of the most original, intelligent, creative, and complicated movies that I've ever seen.
The plot is difficult to follow, because there is a lot going on, and a lot of characters make it even harder to follow (even if nearly everybody is played by somebody you've heard of or seen before). The main plot follows Boxer Santeros, played by the slightly unconvincing but still solid Dwayne Johnson, a man who returns to Los Angeles from the nearby desert with amnesia, unable to remember anything about who he is. As we learn throughout the film, his ties to Hollywood (he's an actor) and politics (he was married to the daughter of a Senator) make him a huge target for a lot of people, and everybody seems to be keen on finding him. At the same time, nuclear explosions in Texas, brought upon by terrorists, caused the War on Terror to get elevated to the next level, beginning World War 3, which gets very little attention here.
Then, everything gets set in motion - as we are informed by our narrator Justin Timberlake - when we discover that "this is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper...but with a bang." And that's exactly how this movie functions; from its political satirical commentary to its apocalyptic feel to its very close resemblance with the "Revelations" section of the Bible (as it is quoted throughout the film numerous times) to its science-fiction-y style, Richard Kelly is the absolute master of this film, giving us no whimpers, but one huge complicated bang. He could have had somebody like Will Smith play the part of Boxer Santeros, but instead he went with a less-talented Dwayne Johnson, because he wanted the story to tell itself instead of relying on an in-depth performance.
The movie is a little slow at times, and even though it's a hell of a lot shorter than the version shown at Cannes, it could definitely have used another twenty minutes of trimming. However, the plot is so confusing and it's so hard to dissect everything that's going on that maybe if it was shorter, this would have even been more of a problem. There are so many characters with their own agendas and so much who-is-doing-what-to-who moments that you should value every image and second of footage that you can, because these are all the clues Kelly has left behind for the people who will spend years figuring this movie out, just as they did with his brilliant "Donnie Darko."
A part of the film I particularly enjoyed - and which were commonly shown throughout - were the futuristic television broadcasts, there to give you a little hint of what was going on in the world. If you just stare at the screen and expect some text or voice to pop out at you and tell you what you need to know, you won't figure out anything from these little broadcasts. But if you look very closely at all the different headlines and images popping up across the screen, this is when you see all the many different brilliant elements of the film coming together, from explanations of what's going on outside of Los Angeles in the War on Terror (which has now elevated itself to World War 3) to little clever patriotic puns to little details regarding the characters we have been following. They give the film a much broader scale than one would otherwise take away from it.
I think that what Kelly has accomplished with "Southland Tales" is incredible, even if he did go a little overboard with all the elements of the story. With this and "Donnie Darko," he really has proved what a brilliant mind he has, and how he isn't about telling simple entertaining stories, but rich, complex, and textured stories with deep metaphorical content and plot twists that can be up for interpretation instead of attempting to explain everything. The only very obvious message that can be taken away from this picture is its very anti- Patriot Act ideas, as it takes place in a world where the government watches and controls everything. It's also very beautifully portrayed because, as you will notice as you watch the film, nearly every single camera shot features an American flag, showing how America wants Americans to think that it's the best country of all, especially in a terrorist world such as the one in this film...and in our world today.
I don't understand everything that I saw in "Southland Tales;" in fact, there is probably a lot about it that I have no idea about, and that anyone who simply goes out and sees it won't be able to pick out on his own. But what I do know is that I saw a film that dared to be different, and even though it didn't succeed on every level, it was so intelligently made and so well thought-out that calling it a "failure" would be an absolutely incorrect thing to say. Cheers for the most original film of 2007!
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