Review: Southland Tales - An Ambitious but Flawed Endeavor

10 May 2023

Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" is an audacious and ambitious film that attempts to delve into complex themes while blending various genres. With its sprawling narrative, satirical commentary, and a star-studded cast, the film aimed to be a thought-provoking and distinctive cinematic experience. However, despite its grand vision and evident passion, "Southland Tales" ultimately falls short, suffering from convoluted storytelling, uneven pacing, and an overwhelming sense of self-indulgence.

One of the most significant shortcomings of "Southland Tales" is its convoluted narrative. The film presents a dystopian vision of a near-future Los Angeles, intertwining multiple storylines and characters.

While this intricate approach can be intriguing, it often becomes overwhelming and confusing. The film struggles to establish clear connections between its various plotlines, leaving viewers disoriented and detached from the story. Kelly's ambitious attempt to blend science fiction, political satire, and social commentary is admirable, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

southland tales movie poster

Despite the star-studded ensemble cast (Justin Timberlake as Private Abiline), The Rock, Sarah Michelle Geller, Seann William Scott "Southland Tales" fails to develop its characters in a meaningful way. Many of the characters lack depth and remain underdeveloped throughout the film. The audience is presented with a series of caricatures rather than fully realized individuals, making it difficult to connect or empathize with them. The performances, while occasionally entertaining, cannot compensate for the lack of substantial character arcs or emotional resonance.

Clocking in at over two and a half hours, "Southland Tales" suffers from pacing issues that hinder the overall viewing experience. The film's slow and meandering pace contributes to a sense of tedium, making it challenging to maintain engagement. Kelly's ambition to explore intricate details and social commentary ultimately results in unnecessary scenes that could have been trimmed or eliminated. A tighter edit would have benefitted the film, allowing the story to flow more smoothly and maintaining audience interest. The Cannes Edit is considered better than the theatrical release.

One of the film's redeeming qualities is its biting satire and social commentary. Kelly uses "Southland Tales" as a platform to criticize celebrity culture, media manipulation, and political corruption. The film presents a scathing portrayal of a society on the brink of collapse, capturing the anxieties and absurdities of the post-9/11 era. However, the satirical elements often feel heavy-handed and lacking subtlety, diminishing their impact. The film's desire to address numerous societal issues simultaneously can feel disjointed and unfocused, diluting the potency of its underlying messages.

Visually, "Southland Tales" showcases Kelly's creative vision. The film boasts a stylized aesthetic, blending elements of science fiction and film noir. The cinematography and production design contribute to a distinctive and atmospheric portrayal of the dystopian world. The soundtrack, featuring a mix of original compositions and popular songs, adds depth and enhances certain scenes. The technical aspects of the film are commendable and serve as some of its strongest aspects.

One of the most iconic and memorable moments in "Southland Tales" is the "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" scene. This sequence showcases a powerful and surreal performance by Justin Timberlake's character, Private Pilot Abilene. Set against the backdrop of chaos and impending doom, Timberlake delivers a mesmerizing and haunting rendition of The Killers' song "All These Things That I've Done." The scene's surreal visuals, including a slow-motion shootout. sexy dancing girls and a trippy kaleidoscope effect, enhance the emotional impact and create a juxtaposition between the brutality of the world and the transcendence of music. 

southland tales dancer girls

This scene serves as a poignant reminder of the power of art and its ability to momentarily transcend the grim realities of the dystopian world depicted in the film. Timberlake's intense performance and the striking visuals make this moment an indelible highlight that lingers in the minds of viewers long after the credits roll.

Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" is an ambitious film that tackles weighty themes and showcases a bold creative vision. However, its convoluted storytelling, lack of character development, and pacing issues hinder its overall impact. While the film exhibits moments of brilliance, it ultimately falls short of its lofty aspirations. "Southland Tales" serves as a cautionary example of a filmmaker's ambitious vision overwhelming the execution, resulting in a disjointed and unsatisfying cinematic experience.

Richard Kelly would go into direct The Box, the last thing he wrote or directed in Hollwood. At the time of this post, it's been 14 years since Hollywood has heard from him. He is active on Twitter.

Here's 10 bits of trivia about Southland Tales

1. "Southland Tales" marked Richard Kelly's follow-up to his cult hit film "Donnie Darko," which gained a significant cult following and propelled him into the spotlight as a promising filmmaker.

2. The film's original cut premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 to a highly polarized reception. The mixed reviews led to significant edits and changes before its theatrical release, resulting in a revised version of the film.

3. "Southland Tales" features an ensemble cast of notable actors, including Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake, and Mandy Moore, among others. This star-studded cast brought considerable attention and anticipation to the project.

4. The film was initially conceived as a sprawling multimedia project, with prequel graphic novels and a planned TV series. However, due to the film's commercial failure, these additional components were never fully realized.

5. The screenplay for "Southland Tales" was written by Richard Kelly during the post-9/11 era, reflecting the anxieties and uncertainties of the time. The film aimed to explore themes of political corruption, surveillance, and the erosion of civil liberties in a dystopian future.

6. The production of "Southland Tales" faced significant budget constraints, resulting in a challenging shoot. Richard Kelly had to make creative compromises and adjustments to bring his ambitious vision to life within the limited resources available.

7. The film's title, "Southland Tales," is a reference to the epic poem "Paradise Lost" by John Milton. The poem explores themes of sin, temptation, and the fall of man, drawing parallels to the narrative and themes of the film.

8. Richard Kelly drew inspiration from various sources and genres while crafting "Southland Tales." Influences can be seen from science fiction literature, film noir, Greek mythology, and even biblical references, creating a rich tapestry of intertextuality.

9. The original version of the film included a much longer and more complex opening sequence that introduced the world and its characters in greater detail. However, due to audience confusion during test screenings, the sequence was drastically shortened, resulting in a more disjointed narrative.

10. The film's soundtrack features a diverse range of music, including songs by artists such as Moby, The Killers, and Radiohead. The soundtrack adds depth to the film's atmosphere and contributes to its blend of dystopian and satirical elements.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
Back to Top