rated: PG for violence, mild language and some thematic elements
length: 117 min.
scary factor: suspenseful scenes with rattlesnake, deadly lizards – nothing a 10 yr old couldn’t handle
violence: two boys fight; one boy whacks a provoking guard in the head with his shovel, knocking him out; in flashback a man is shot (in extreme wide shot – no closeups); Kate then shoots the sheriff in revenge; guards in work camp have guns, but only a lizard is actually shot
language: authentic but rather mild, for teenage boys: damn, hell, crap, Oh, my God… that kind of thing. (According to imdb.com there is one “jackass” but I didn’t even notice it.)
other: flashbacks depict scenes of racial hatred (burning down the school) and vague threat of sexual violence (drunken sheriff tries to force Kate to kiss him)
interests: mystery, desert, prison work camps, bad luck, family history, curses, cowboys, crime and punishment, buried treasure
next: read the book if you haven’t! Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats III, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, is sent to a juvenile detention work camp where the boys dig endless holes in a dried-up lakebed… supposedly to build character but Stanley soon suspects the Warden is actually searching for something. Events in the camp, and the history of the place (including a colourful outlaw named Kissin’ Kate Barlow) lead Stanley to find redemption and break the Yelnats family curse.
This movie is a faithful, colourful, fun and intelligent adaptation of the original book. (It helps that the screenplay was written by the novel’s author, Louis Sachar, who also appears in a cameo role as a man in a crowd scene who is going bald.) The plot is convoluted, with lots of twists and surprises, and it is refreshing that the audience is left to connect some of the dots.
The older age recommendation of 10 is mostly because of the rather dark elements of racism/lynching and threat in the flashback sequences. The scenes in the camp are played more broadly. While Camp Greenlake is a rather bleak place, the Warden and guards (especially Jon Voight) are caricatures, played more for fun and in the end they get their comeuppance. Considering the boys at the camp are juvenile delinquents, there isn’t much bad language or nastiness on display. The big lesson in this film is about friendship and loyalty, and the Yelnats’s are a quirky but warm and loving family unit.
It’s a very good movie, surprisingly intelligent, sophisticated in its storytelling, with terrific performances all round and a lot of heart. My only disappointment is that they slimmed up the hero. In the book Stanley is overweight and picked on – a true underdog. Stanley in the movie is played by Shia LaBeouf, still a bit of a schmuck but definitely not overweight. It made me a bit sad that someone decided the hero of a film could not be a plus-size actor. That said, Shia is pretty great in the role.