If there’s anyone good at digging themselves a hole it’s Hollywood Marmite, Shia LaBeouf. Not only does he poo-poo monsieur Spielberg in one the greatest movie franchises of all-time, don a paper bag in public ‘not seeking attention’, but he whipped out his special purpose in Nymphomaniac. He even allegedly slugged Tom Hardy on the set of Lawless.
Why are we spending any amount of time on this ruffian, giving the moving picture box a bad reputation? One word: Holes. Back in the days of university, I had the pleasure of working in a video shop to supplement my then roll-up needs, money for cider and the occasional notebook for lectures. During the day shift, it was mostly old ladies and work-shy folk who’d loiter the premises, looking for obscure films nobody liked or ignoring a recommendation from yours truly. But the majority of the time it was relatively dead so staff would pass the time watching family-friendly films.
For the majority of the time, we’d watch 80s classics or The Simpsons over and over again because all the new ‘safe’ films were duds. It’s not like we could put on Freddy Vs Jason. Well, we could, but the boss would have been in big trouble. Enter Holes. It was a straight-to-video flick that would undoubtedly pass the time to some degree, but little did we know that it would be such a great film.
Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats, Shia LeBeouf’s debut, a teenager whose family has the misfortune of being cursed with bad luck due to the mishaps on an ancestor not keeping a promise with a fortune teller. Stanley follows this path of calamity and gets mistaken for a thief, half-inching a pair of baseball boots. With his bad luck firing on all cylinders, he gets imprisoned in a juvenile prison camp for 18 months Camp Green Lake, in the middle of nowhere. Naturally.
In his time at the camp, Stanley promptly gets branded with the nickname, Caveman, after he finds a fossil in one of the many holes that these meddling kids have to dig each day. He also finds another item that he becomes obsessed with and starts to unravel an intriguing past that connects his family to what he has found. The purpose of digging holes in the blistering heat is apparently punishment for their crime. Still, there is an agenda: the powers that be are looking for something, something in particular that will benefit all parties financially. Ok, that’s a somewhat convoluted attempt to be discreet by saying they’re looking for treasure, and maybe Stanley has tuned in on that, albeit, unexpectedly.
Stanley somehow gets involved in a more in-depth plot that is told in flashback, dating back to the 19th century; a tale of love, betrayal and comeuppance; jumping back and forth from the past to the present. Yes, Holes does feel like quite a low-budget straight-to-video film, but the performances are brilliant – Shia LeBeouf, this ratbag who got a little too big for his boots shines as the lead, firmly supported by a stellar cast. Who else stars in this low-key movie? Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette (when she was good – anyone remember True Romance?!), Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson – playing a classic weasel that he plays oh so well. Even the Fonz, Henry Wrinkler makes an appearance.
It’s an inoffensive film that ticks a few boxes such as comedy, romance, adventure and a good old-fashioned yarn. When it was released, it made over $70 million on a $20 million budget, making the majority of that from the home market. Not too shabby. Holes isn’t an exclusive property as it was based on a novel of the same name from 1998 by the author Louis Sachar, and apparently pretty accurate. I’ll be honest, I never heard of it, and the book only came to my attention when double-checking when it was released.
Holes won’t change your life, but it’ll make you feel good, and at a time of uncertainty for us all, it’s nice to celebrate the human condition and acknowledge that there’s a lot of good out there even if the lead character has a stupid name and enviable hair. It wasn’t until writing this that I realised who the director of the film is: Andrew Davis – Helm Master General for masterpieces like Under Siege, The Fugitive and Collateral Damage. Ok, except for The Fugitive, they aren’t the classics, but anyone who can work with the ponytailed legend Segal, then subsequently kickstart Shia LeBeouf’s career, propelling him forward to work with greats such as Spielberg, Lars Von Trier, Alex Proyas and Oliver Stone. He even worked with Michael Bay.
However, this isn’t solely a vehicle to celebrate the career of one fellow, but the recognition of Holes – a triumph in the world of family films, making Sunday afternoon so much more pleasant than watching the Toy Story films for the 100th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but when you know the script word for word, it’s time for something new. Besides, characters such as Squid, Zero, Armpit and Barfbag are a little more interesting than Woody or Buzz.
Now that Disney+ is finally here, it is with great pleasure to announce that Holes is already available to stream. Not got it yet? The Mouse House is offering the service for a 7 days trial. By the time you read this, I’ll be paying my first instalment as it’s an excellent service to have – it’s got the animated X-Men series, for goodness sake! But more importantly, you can watch films such as Holes and see the great potential that Shia The Beef had before he squandered and went rogue.