Southland Tales

Southland Tales ★★★★★

"Friendly fire."
"I forgive you."
"Friendly fire."
"I forgive you."

I think when you get enough into movies and the history that circulates around them, there are certain films that feel like white whales, elusive creatures that slip out from your grasp just as you're about to finally grab them. Richard Kelly was a golden child of independent filmmaking. Donnie Darko, a cult hit, if that contradiction can exist, made him a hot ticket. This guy needed to make more movies, and if anyone was willing enough, he should make something big. The saying of "go big or go home" in this type of situation can lead to what many call the "sophomore slump." After scorching the ground you're standing on with a stellar debut, critics and audiences can have certain expectations evaporated when they see what happens when they believe a filmmaker gets a bit too big for their britches. Over 3,000 films under my belt now, and I want to say I'm not sure I have come across a greater critical, commercial, and financial example of "sophomore slump" than this very film. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, despite being as ambitious as a film like it could ever hope to be, and packed to the brim with an all-star cast, Southland Tales was derided from the start. It's not only alluded to as receiving some of the most aggressive booing in the history of the festival, critics and other audience members who attended the screening of Kelly's feature have even gone so far as to consider it the worst film to ever be shown at the festival. This "Cannes Cut" stayed as that, roughly thirteen minutes from the film being edited out before its theatrical release, where it would gross $374,743 worldwide on a budget of seventeen million. (I mean like, look at those numbers again. Holy fucking shit.) So, two things. One, the white whale analogy at the start. This "Cannes Cut" was my white whale. For awhile, when I heard that it existed, I would have killed to have seen it, which leads to thing two. Yes, this is not a perfect movie, not even close, and it completely makes sense to look at this and just respond with "not for me." I'm not that person though. I believe this is viewing six or so of Southland Tales for me, and yes, finally, this viewing was of that "Cannes Cut", available to the public for the first time in HD because of the recently released Arrow Video Blu-Ray. I want to smile because I can say that alone, that I have seen it at long last. This is one of my favorite movies now, without any question. I cannot do anything but just adore its ambitions, how well Kelly seems to have a read on socio-political conflicts and woes within modern America, and how utterly fucking insane the casting and performances are here. A wide-reaching collection of early aughts and 90's icons, plus people who would only explode in popularity after the film's release. There are three things I want to highlight in this review, two being from the Cannes Cut in particular, and one being more of a general thing about the movie regardless of the version you watch. The Cannes things: One, in this version, there's interesting reverb to the needle drops of "All These Things That I've Done" and "Tender." Worth noting before these were two of my favorite needle drops in any movie, and now with this new choice of sound design, making these songs even more ethereal and boundary-breaking than they were before, I love them even more. ("All These Things That I've Done" in particular, if I haven't labeled it as my favorite needle drop in any movie before, I think now it takes that spot.) Two, I was pleasantly surprised that not only do I think none of the footage in this Cannes Cut is unnecessary, some of it even feels dare I say integral to understanding the world and motivations of Southland Tales especially for first-time audiences. I sincerely do not get why any of the cuts or re-edits were made. The most egregious edit has to be reducing the length of the "Blackout" sequence, which again was yet another favorite needle drop of all time, so yes, Southland Tales can claim the title of holding three of my favorite needle drops from any movie. Impressive, if I can say so. It was great before, but here, it's fucking incredible, full body shivers and a lump in your throat type shit. Felt a small bit of actual anger that I only got to see the scene in this manner now after seeing this movie so many times beforehand. So, yes, I can safely say that for the future, the Cannes Cut is the version of this movie for me. That still leaves one more thing, something I know I have highlighted in my two other reviews for this movie, but I would feel incorrect leaving it out here. Seann William Scott gives, full stop, one of the best performances I have seen from an actor period here, and that is said without a single ounce of irony or hyperbole. It's hard to talk about the ending of his character's/characters' journey without getting into spoilers, which I don't want to, but just know it involves that opening quote, and I think the character of Roland gets to explore some of the most emotionally fulfilling work of shame and eventual self-forgiveness I have come across in fiction. I think it's beautiful, and I mean it when I say I cannot imagine anyone other than Stiffler playing this character as well. That's about the peak compliment I can pay to Southland Tales. Richard Kelly is a one in a million artist for this, how he is able to pick out actors like he did here and give them something so challenging and unforgettable to every single actor, Scott of course to me getting the meatiest part. I am grateful that this exists in any form, and I'm now eternally grateful that I got to finally see this how it's meant to be seen.

10/10

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