Southland Tales, at first glance, appears to be a fairly weird film. Directed by the guy behind Donnie Darko, and filled with relatively big names from the early 2000's - Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Rock, Amy Poehler, Jon Lovitz, and Justin Timberlake, amongst others - about a near-future America in the throes of incipient fascism, it seems like a perfect little time capsule. And in many ways, it is. But with its thematic inconsistencies, bizarre politics, plot that ranges between incoherent and idiotic, and casting that consistently and perversely plays actors against type, it's hard to imagine a stranger movie to come out of Hollywood in our era.
But don't take my word for it - how about Justin Timberlake and The Killers?
The director, by the way, apparently considers that scene the key point in the film. And no, it doesn't really make a whole lot more sense in context.
Most of the time, movies that are simply incoherent messes, especially ones that last nearly three hours, are out-and-out terrible. But Southland Tales stays almost compulsively watchable. There are several great scenes in the film that, if the movie was thematically built around them, would have made a great movie. A perfectly-cast Sarah Michelle Gellar is the only actor to really acquit herself well, as a pseudo-intellectual porn star who thinks she's ripe for massive crossover success as a pop star, public intellectual, and anti-fascist conspirator. She's wrong, of course, but it doesn't stop her from delivering lines like "Scientists now say the future will be far more futuristic than originally predicted."
Meanwhile, Amy Poehler is involved in a tragic farce run by the "neo-Marxist" activist/terrorists trying to swing the impending election...or something. The nonsense of that plotline gets offset by her hilarious fake argument that's supposed to lead to murder. Or something. It's a great scene divorced from the context of the film, but, well, it wasn't.
There are also occasional moments of stunning beauty, such as a point near the end of the film involving ostensible protagonist Seann William Scott witnessing, and falling from, the end of the world. The clip above, with Justin Timberlake lip-syncing to The Killers, certainly remains in the memory.
So I can't recommend Southland Tales as a story, or as a political statement, or even as a good way to spend two hours and forty-one minutes. But I also can't say it's in any way a waste of time. It's like a brilliant guy you knew got depressed about George W. Bush's re-election in 2004, and instead of ranting about it on Daily Kos, ranted about it in a piece of occasionally stunning art. See it if you want the crazy.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
I like cookies!
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Southland Tales is a 2007 science fiction/drama/black comedy film, written and directed by Richard Kelly. The title refers to the Southland, a name used by locals to refer to Southern California and Greater Los Angeles. Set in the then near future of an alternate history, the film is a portrait of Los Angeles and a comment on the military-industrial news-tainment complex. The film features an ensemble cast. Original music for the film was provided by Moby. Samuel Goldwyn Films in partnership with Destination Films and Sony Pictures released Southland Tales.
The film premiered May 21, 2006 at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a largely negative reception. After significant edits, the final version premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 22, 2007. It opened in limited release in California on November 14, 2007 and in Canada as well as nationwide in United States, in just 63 theaters, on November 16, 2007. The film opened in the United Kingdom on December 7, 2007.