|Directed by:||Richard Kelly|
|Written by:||Richard Kelly|
|Cast:||James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Gillian Jacobs, Frank Langella|
OK, so maybe my plot summary isn't as concise as it could be. And no, it isn't a comedy; more of a thriller with sci-fi themes. With that all said, the synposis of a mystery box that grants you a million dollars, but kills someone you don't know, when you push a button does little justice for the story as a whole for this movie. If anything, that covers probably the first 30 min. in this 115 min. long movie. What follows is anything but concise, as the simple premise of Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" becomes buried in plot holes and devices.
James Marsden and Cameron Diaz star as Arthur and Norma Lewis, a couple starting a family that find themselves spiralling into financial trouble as Norma loses benefits at her job, and Arthur misses out on a high-paying job opportunity at NASA. Here is where the first problem I have with the movie arises: The family is living "paycheck to paycheck", as Norma puts it, and yet, Arthur is working at NASA, and apparently pulling down good bank since he's driving a corvette and living in a posh neighbourhood. This is the 70's, probably the decade in which NASA was best funded and at its pinnacle, and yet, we are led to believe this family is falling on hard times because they're going to have to pay full-cost for their son's school. I was hoping this wouldn't annoy me as much as it did, but it does, if not only for the simple fact as this fuels all major decisions made by the characters for the rest of the film.
Marsden is well-cast as Arthur, a loving father and husband who only wants the best for his family but is not above making the wrong decision. I would also go as far as to say the same for Diaz's portrayal of Norma if it wasn't for the horrendous accent she adopts for her character that does nothing but detract from her performance. Why is it that Arthur's character has little to no accent to speak of, the son has somewhat of an accent, and yet Norma has an accent so thick that it sounds like she's not speaking her lines, but rather chewing them up and drooling them all over the scenery? This in my opinion is sloppy direction and should've been addressed the instant Diaz opened her mouth to deliver her first line. This sounds like it is a major grievance, and to some extent it is, but over time, I think the audience would learn to tune it out or ignore it, and it wouldn't be as large a problem as I make it sound. However, if you go looking for the accent, you won't have a difficult time finding it, and it will likely get on your nerves the same way it did mine.
On the other side of the coin, Frank Langella plays the role of the disfigured benefactor Arthur Steward (yep, another Arthur that you get to keep track of) who introduces the Lewises to 'the box' and all its financial promise. I feel Langella was the best character in this movie and likely the best choice for the role. The others could come and go, but Langella's portrayal is both imposing and to an extent, heart-breaking, to see a man shaped into something all together inhuman and devoid of emotion, by forces beyond his control. No longer is he in charge of his life, but rather bends to the will of his employers ("those who control the lightning") and is tasked with carrying out a 'job' with such repercussions . As the narrative continues, we learn that this is not merely a job he has been tasked with, but rather he is a scientist on a much grander scale, collecting data and preparing test conditions that will ultimately determine the fate of humanity and life on planet Earth. It is then that we see he truly lacks free will, or at the very least, maintains an extensive degree of indifference, and exists only to carry out his duties.
Richard Kelly deserves some kudos for attempting to turn the premise of a beloved episode of the Twilight Zone (that's right, before becoming this movie, Matheson's "Button, Button" was done as an episode of the Twilight Zone) into a feature length film. The original story and adaptation were superb in their simplicity, but I can also appreciate the questions viewers and readers might have for the origins of the box, and the greater role and implications it has for humanity. Kelly, who is no stranger to sci-fi bizarres with his previous work Donnie Darko, attempted to elaborate on this point by crafting a story that not only incorporates Matheson's work, but goes even further and fleshes out a backstory narrative to examine the origins, and consequences, of the box and its use in determining the fate of an entire species. This would likely have been no easy task, and though the pieces are there to make a truly inspiring and creative masterwork, the many plot holes and flaws of the narrative's pacing prevent this from happening. It is almost as if Kelly overthought the story and made something much more complex than he needed it to be - a machine with many gears, levers and switches that only needs to scramble eggs for an omlette.
The first act of the movie is very engrossing and captivating, but as time goes on, much of that which makes the first piece special, is lost in the second act, and erased in the third, with an ending that largely feels tacked on. However, I can't sit here and think of a way to end the story other than how Kelly has done so, and that shouldn't been see as a fault. Visually it has been done well, and he has followed his idea through faithfully, but if it is flawed from the get-go, then there's not much that can be done when the final credits roll.
I have tried to keep this review somewhat vague as I don't want to spoil the film for those that haven't seen it. However, the vagueness of my review I think is also a trademark of the film itself in its overarching themes and sociopolitical conundrums. And when it came to scoring the film (and this is after multiple viewings), I don't think I could rate it anything other than a 6. Anything more would've completely ignored the flaws inherent to the movie, and anything less would not give enough credit to Kelly and the cast for crafting the original piece of sci-fi that they did. I would definitely recommend it to those who are fans of Matheson's work, fans of the Twilight Zone, fans of Kelly's (as I'm sure people who enjoy Donnie Darko would be willing to forgive many of the problems like I did to some degree) or those looking for a non-linear sci-fi thriller/mystery.