That was what went through my head about halfway through Richard Kelly's The Box. It actually made me sick to my stomach. Not the film, mind you, but the realization that he just wasn't gonna do it. Y'all know I root for Kelly - the man made Donnie Darko, for the Lord's sake! And there are big chunks of Southland Tales that I think are genius (even if I'm not convinced the movie's anything resembling "coherent," it's still ballsier and busier and more fun than most things. Ever.).
But both of those movies, besides eventual cult-status, were big honking flops. So he needed a winner here. So he got his Big-Deal Movie Star in the lead, he got the studio push (even if they did flick it through the release schedule ruthlessly for awhile there) with the commercials and the posters and the red carpet treatment. He promised a whittling down of his usual scatter-shot approach - he's going for a stream-lined story this time, he promised. Simple, to the point.
But something done gone wrong.
What I think it is is Richard Kelly appears to be a film-maker in crisis. Southland Tales - the critical drubbing, the dumped-into-no-theaters thing - it appears to have shaken him fairly deeply. You can read it in the interviews he does and it's all over the face of this movie. The Box lacks the conviction of any convictions at all. There are great ideas and moments here and there that weasel their way through the otherwise idle scenery, but nothing pops. Nothing connects. I love that Richard Kelly's got ideas just bursting out of him that he wants to throw at us, but here I just couldn't figure out what all the background noise was in service of. Scenes just happened. Things just happened. I didn't especially feel anything was connected - that anyone's actions were progressing in any kind of logical manner, even unto his own story. His own point of view. They went from point A to point M to point F to point B, all while emotionally flying from dull-eyed depression to dull-eyed confusion in a single stroke!
I do wonder if a re-edit could've helped. I know shaving a second here and a second there, constructing a rhythm to the madness, can make a huge difference. Here there was no rhythm. I'd get excited in fits and starts, realizing that the film had finally hooked me in a great scene or moment - and there are some really great creepy moments in the film - and then it would just drift off, lose me immediately. I never much felt an emotional connection with any of the characters. James Marsden is a supernaturally beautiful man (even more so in person - I stood right next to him after the screening and he freaked me the fuck out he is so pretty) so that helped, and he did what he could with the role. Frank Langella's part is far more thankless than you would expect it to be going in - he really doesn't have much to do beyond stand there disfigured behaving emotionally disconnected and tell them the rules of the game, which change every fifteen minutes.
As for Cameron... I know that I knock Diaz now and then, but that's more her public persona than her acting prowess - I think she's been quite good in several things,. But here... hmm... she really just doesn't seem to be connecting with anything at all. I don't really like to or feel good about singling her out here, and I think due credit for her failure's gotta be laid at Kelly's feet as well, but in almost every scene I found myself stepping back and thinking to myself that she was just not convincing me of anything that was going on around her. I actually remember my mind wandering at one point off to Mary McDonnell in Donnie Darko as Donnie's mother Rose and how freaking incredible she is in that small role and how much this film would benefit from that kind of presence.
Instead, Diaz seems lost. The whole thing seems lost. And I do think that Kelly let this film get away from him, and I'm reading it as fear. He's afraid of the tangents he desperately wants to follow so he's reined himself in, but then at the same time he's got a voice and a world that he's unable to divorce himself from completely so that stuff wanders into the film and just sits there, staring, waiting for him to play with it. Instead, it just sits.
Bless the man, I want success for him, I do, really. But The Box just does not work.