The Full List of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews.
If you could get one million dollars for merely pushing a button once would you do it? Take a moment to really think about this question. Would you push the button if you knew that somewhere in the world one person, who you have never met, would die as a result? These questions serve as the catalyst for Richard Kelly's latest science fiction work, The Box. Based on Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button", The Box is film that is all about the unrelenting cycle of choices and consequences.
Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) are a happily married couple living the typical suburban life in 1976. One morning the couple wake up to find a mysterious package on their front door. The parcel contains a wooden box with a red button encased in glass and a note stating that Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) shall be stopping by later. Sure enough, a slightly disfigured Arlington Steward appears later that day to make the couple an offer that they seemingly cannot refuse. Arlington informs Norma that if she, or her husband, pushes the button the couple will receive one million dollars. The only catch being that someone somewhere in the world would die as a result. Arlington informs the couple that they have twenty-four hours to make a choice.
The Box offers a very interesting premise as the themes of financial worth versus human life offers plenty to think about. Sadly the film does live up to its initial set up at all. What makes this film even more disappointing is the fact that this is director Richard Kelly's second straight strike (the first being Southland Tales) after hitting it out of the park with Donnie Darko. Richard Kelly has shown in his earlier works, most notably the aforementioned Darko, that he has the skill needed to deliver complex and engaging science fiction fare. Unfortunately we only get brief glimpses of Kelly's talent in this shamble of a film.
There are several elements that hurt this film, the most notable being the uneven editing. Due to the abrupt editing it often feels like chunks of the story are missing. Characters randomly appear and react to things without any real contexts. Several individuals are creepy just for the sake of being creepy. The flaws with the editing become more pronounced once Kelly reveals all of the major plot points.
Needless to say The Box does require the audience to take huge leaps of faith in order to avoid the numerous plot holes. The problem is there is only so much silliness a person can sit through before you start to question things. For example, if we are to believe that the events in this picture happened before and will happen again. Is Arthur's actions towards the latter half of the film as important as his NASA friends would have you believe? Also, the issue of freewill is both the cause and cure to certain situations, should Arlington's side really be that judgmental of the choices the characters make? Especially since Arlington is constantly arranging events to ensure things play out the way they do?
Richard Kelly strives to make The Box a dark and pulpy tale, as a result it plays more like a really bad episode of the Twilight Zone. Heck, even a television show like Fringe could make this subject matter far more disturbing and engaging. The cast does the best they can with the material but even that is not enough to salvage the film. Langella is the standout as he has the juiciest role in the picture. Marsden and Diaz have been far better elsewhere and never reach the level they should to give the picture greater significance. As much as it pains me to say, most of the blame has to fall on Kelly's shoulders for this. Instead of focusing more on tighter editing and a stronger script, Kelly seems to be more interested in making grand statements and incorporating moments merely because it allows for some "cool shots." There is a chance that The Box is one of those films that will reveal its hidden strengths upon multiple viewings. Frankly it was excruciating to sit through this film once, I can hardly fathom the idea of torturing myself again just to see if there is something more hidden at the bottom of this box.