2007. Directed by Richard Kelly.
“This is way the world ends…”
Generally considered to be the 21st century’s Heaven’s Gate, Richard Kelly’s second feature film was critically annihilated at Cannes and went on to be labeled as one of the worst films of 2007. In the decade since its release many film lovers have returned to Kelly’s sun washed dystopia to discover a flawed, but brilliant piece of storytelling. A drug fueled fever dream by way of Bush Era Vonnegut, Southland Tales is a sprawling science fiction epic whose sly predictions for the future are sporadically overshadowed by its wildly creative presentation.
Action star Boxer Santaros is a wanted man, both for an ominous script he possesses about the apocalypse and for his political value to various factions fighting for control of the American dream in the midst of a nuclear tragedy that has sparked World War III. Kelly’s mammoth script weaves several complicated story lines together to present an all too possible future in which the final days of reality play out in the heart of a new age Los Angeles. Borrowing heavily from Brazil, Doctor Strangelove, Kiss Me Deadly, and Harrison Bergeron, Kelly’s satirical framework is constantly evolving, never resting on a single point for too long and never settling into a comfortable classification. The dialogue is packed with odd exchanges and wooden comedy that at first appears unsettling and out of place. However, as the story expands to reveal the terrible knowledge at its center, the awkwardness becomes both hilarious and terrifying. This is the end, with the volume turned up to eleven.
Kelly’s cast is packed with pop culture icons and cinematic fixtures, blending the elements of the past he seeks to homage with the stars of the future he seeks to warn. Dwayne Johnson gives the best performance of his career as Santaros, the cardboard tough guy who immediately folds at the slightest hint of violence, a complete reversal of his wrestling personality. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s turn as a porn star turned talk show host is a loving condemnation of the electronic generation that dovetails with Miranda Richardson’s devious establishment matron. Seann William Scott plays twin brothers, one a corrupt cop the other a rebel in the fight against the system and his final scene with these characters is one of Southland’s many guilty pleasures. Justin Timberlake rounds out the cast as an omnipotent narrator, a wounded veteran who watches over the Southland through the lens of a high powered rifle, using temporal narcotics to induce surrealistic musical sequences and heartbreaking emotional connections.
Southland Tales is a convergence of thematic ideals in which Kelly dabbles, but never commits. It unabashedly criticizes the war on the terror and the patriot act while taking its time to comment on the pursuit of energy and its irreparable consequences for our men and women in uniform. Timberlake and Scott’s unique portrayals of PTSD, supported by outlandish visuals from Steven Poster are both haunting and uniquely respectful. Police Violence and domestic terrorism are ever present specters, looming in the azure sky above a city that lost itself long before nuclear calamity, while religion; both the worship of spiritual and mundane idols is perhaps Southland’s strongest theme, using T.S. Eliot and passages from Revelations to sing its lollipop dirge of an inconvenient Armageddon.
The soundtrack is one of the film’s strongest attributes, blending perfect song choice with sharp editing to present the City of Angels’ final days as an intoxicating collision of violence, love, and hope. Hope that we’ll maybe we’ll get it right the next time around. There are a handful of strange films that have stolen fire from the gods and flew too close to the sun. Southland Tales is among these flawed titans, presenting a universe filled with colorful insanity, unforgettable personas, and outlandish (but undeniably relevant) ideas.
Available now for digital rental, Southland Tales is a remarkable effort. Its lack of focus and refusal to explain itself will undoubtedly be a turn off for many; however, this is a film that deserves a chance. No matter whether its ideas resonate with you or not, it will have you pondering its mysteries and inconsistencies long after its levitating ice cream truck conclusion.
Highly. Highly Recommend.