My Favorite Movies – Holes (2003)

2 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Director Andrew Davis is best known for action films like “Code of Silence,” “Under Siege,” and “The Fugitive”…but my introduction to his work (and still my personal favorite of his films) was his 2003 Disney adventure flick “Holes,” based on the Louis Sachar novel of the same name. I’ve loved this movie since I was 10 years old, and it’s still in my personal top 100 even today. So I’m gonna talk about it!

What is it about this movie that still appeals to me as an adult? Honestly, it’s the same thing that appealed to me as a kid. It’s a wonderful mix of legend, charm, mystery, fate, and whimsy–and all around just a clever story (wonderfully adapted for the screen by author Louis Sachar himself). Add to that some of the most convincing juvenile ensemble acting in any movie (right up there with “The Goonies” and “It”), some legitimate intimidating threats, and damn good directing by Davis, and this is a movie that both kids and adults can enjoy!

Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) is the young hero of the story. He seemingly comes from a century-old family curse, which his family blames on when he’s falsely accused of a crime, stealing a famous athlete’s shoes (really, they just landed on his head) which were supposed to be given to charity. His punishment is serving time at Camp Green Lake, which isn’t as fun as it sounds–it’s really a desert bunkhouse surrounded by thousands and thousands of holes. He has to join his bunkmates (each with their own quirky nicknames–X-Ray, Armpit, Magnet, etc.) in digging one hole per day–five feet deep, five feet wide (though really, it just has to be as long and as deep as the shovel being used–that’s the system the boys use anyway).

Why is this? Well, Mr. Sir (Jon Voight), a boorish ominous supervisor, tells Stanley: “You take a bad boy, you make him dig holes all day in the hot sun, and it turns him into a good boy. That’s our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake.”

I think it’s right about here, early on, that Stanley suspects that something is up, that they’re obviously looking for something–the audience is already thinking it, I’m sure. (I was.) But Mr. Sir is so imposing and Stanley’s counselor Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) seems like a good listener but is always easy to brush something off and the number-one rule is not to upset the Warden (Sigourney Weaver)–and if Mr. Sir can get upset, I don’t think any of these kids want to cross the Warden! So, I let it pass and enjoy the ride.

There are also parallel stories told in flashbacks. One story shows us how the curse began and another, which is probably the most heartbreaking arc of the story, involves a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) who becomes an outlaw whose legacy’s trail of blood leaves clues for our present-day heroes to find, making for a fascinating mystery to be solved. It’s wonderfully smart and creative and intriguing to see how these pieces fit together in each timeline.

There’s also a lot of time dedicated to showing Stanley fit in at camp. He soon earns the respect of his bunkmates–X-Ray (Brendan Jefferson), Magnet (Miguel Castro), Squid (Jake Smith), Zigzag (Max Kasch), Armpit (Byron Cotton), and Zero (Khleo Thomas)–and is even given a nickname of his own (“Caveman”). The way these kids interact feels like these are real kids joking with each other. And they’re all acted greatly. There’s also a real heart brought to light when Zero, often ostracized by the rest of the group, helps Stanley, who in turn teaches him how to read. Their partnership that develops as the movie continues is one of the highlights of the movie.

That’s another thing I love about “Holes”–even as there’s a lot going on here, it takes its time with the character interactions and the progressing adventure and the compelling mystery, and it doesn’t feel forced. Something else I love is that despite the fantastical material, it all feels downplayed, making for a convincing feel in style and tone. Even the villains, played by Weaver, Voight, and Nelson, could have easily played their roles over-the-top, but they’re kept in check too–it’s like they knew they were still making a Disney movie but a different kind of Disney movie.

Oh, right. I forgot about the yellow-spotted lizards. This is the one thing that doesn’t hold up as well, particularly when they use poorly-rendered CGI lizards to chase and/or bite some of the characters. I can easily tell which lizards are real and which ones are fake, which kind of takes away the fear factor a little bit.

But that’s really the only nitpick I have with this movie. I even like Henry Winkler as Stanley’s father who tries to find a cure for foot odor–I bring this up because most people tend to see this arc as too silly, but I didn’t mind it.

I love “Holes.” I love both the book and the movie. I’ve watched it a thousand times before, and I’m sure I’ll watch it a thousand more times in the future.

Oh, and I even like the rap song performed by the young actors. I know some of you who grew up with this movie are humming it right now…

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