Saturday, July 3, 2021


Of the many (many) films I had watched growing up, I have distinct memories associated with Holes. Around the time I had watched Holes during its initial theatrical run, I was reading the original novel by Louis Sachar, who also wrote the adaptation, and had actually finished reading the book in the theater right before the lights dimmed. Though I don’t remember every detail from the book, many elements of the film stuck with me for eighteen years, which ultimately led me to rewatch the film. To my surprise, Holes held up really well and stands out as an example of great storytelling that anyone can get into.

Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of shoes donated to a charity by Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston (Rick Fox). When given the choice by the judge (Michael Cavanaugh) to go to Camp Green Lake for eighteen months or serve jail time, Stanley chooses Camp Green Lake. When he arrives, however, he discovers that the lake is dried up and the camp’s prisoners, known by their nicknames, are forced to dig one five-by-five hole every day. They are promised a day off should they find anything the Warden (Sigourney Weaver) finds interesting, but no one knows what the Warden is actually looking for.

The Camp Green Lake prisoners dig holes day in and day out.

Although, as I mentioned, I don’t remember every detail from the book, the film is one of the best book-to-screen adaptations for its faithfulness to the source material. I’m aware that some changes exist between versions, but they’re so minor that knowing any of them doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film in any sense.

It helps, of course, that apart from both versions sharing the same writer, Holes has a strong story with excellent execution. There are multiple plotlines involving the curse upon Stanley’s family, an in-universe historical figure named "Kissin' Kate" Barlow (Patricia Arquette) and the history of Camp Green Lake, but all of them are balanced very well and while they seem disparate at first, they all come back at the end in a very satisfying way. While largely grounded in reality, there’s a certain fairy tale quality to it that elevates the story and helps it stand out as a unique adventure comedy. Holes also does a very good job at challenging the viewer while staying engaging thanks to its subtle foreshadowing, with smaller details that all come back later in ways that reward the viewer for paying attention. Truly, there is no wasted detail or character and, tying into one of the story’s main themes of destiny, everything is there for a reason.

The movie features multiple flashbacks, but all of them are plot-relevant;
L-R: Elya Yelnats (Damien Luvara), Madame Zeroni (Eartha Kitt)

The characters themselves are also well-written, with a likeable protagonist and memorable secondary characters from Camp Green Lake’s D Tent that you can’t help but root for against the Warden, Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) and Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson). Though the heads of Camp Green Lake antagonize the D Tent prisoners, they all regularly get their comeuppance in a usually satisfying way. Everyone is also well-cast, with great performances from just about every member of the cast. Thanks to the great cinematography, you can also feel the sense of isolation that the D Tent prisoners feel while they continuously dig holes in the vast desert.

Out of every member of the cast, however, Shia LeBeouf’s performance is the most interesting, partly due to real-world knowledge of his later career. Compared to some of his more well-known roles, including Sam Witwicky in the Transformers film series, he shows early on in his film career that he can deliver a more subtle performance. Sometime after this film, he also had his own share of plagiarism controversies and engaged in rather odd behavior one could only assume was caused by a mental breakdown. None of this detracts from watching him shine in Holes, but it’s sad knowing this considering how much promise he showed in this film.

Shia LeBeouf is very convincing as Stanley Yelnats IV.

If I only had one real criticism of Holes, it would be that the CG used for some shots of the yellow-spotted lizards didn’t age very well. You can clearly tell when they switched between docile, carefully-painted bearded dragons and more aggressive CG models required for certain actions. It doesn’t take too much away from the film, but it’s the most noticeable flaw in an otherwise arguably near-flawless production.

No matter what age you are, there’s something to like about Holes. Its story is simple enough to engage younger audiences, but its plot has enough complexity to challenge even the adult viewers and reward observation. With well-written characters and great visuals, plus an unironically great song in “Dig It”, I would highly recommend this underrated film.

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