Starring: Danny Huston, Mathew Jacobs, Lisa Enos
You may like this if you liked: Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002), The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999), Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)
Based on Master and Man, which was a short story by Tolstoy, Boxing Day centres on two characters Basil (Huston) and Nick (Jacobs). Basil is a property speculator who has been hit hard by the recession and has fallen on hard times. To the annoyance of his wife he sneaks out on Boxing Day to fly to Denver to view repossessed properties that he can buy and then sell for a huge profit. His chauffeur for the day is Nick, a recently divorced man with his own problems. The narrative then follows these two very different men as they drive around the harsh wintery Denver landscape and how their relationship develops.
I have never read the short story by Tolstoy that Boxing Day is based on. However, in my view as it is a modern interpretation the film should get its message across successfully without the viewer having read the source material. I felt that Boxing Day did just that, it is very bleak, but a compelling drama. It is maybe slightly clichéd that two completely different characters come to eventually depend on each other, but it is how that comes about what depends on just how clichéd it is. Everything is all handled in a very low key and subtle tone producing two very enduring and fascinating characters. I found myself wanting to like both characters and desperately wanting them to get on, credit has to go to both the actors and the screenplay for producing this feeling. The film may indeed sound boring, but it is far from it in my opinion as their exchanges of dialogue feel completely natural but never contrived or flat. The two protagonists simply demonstrate the flaws that we are all guilty of, and so are characters we can relate to and engage with. A vast majority of the film takes place in the car and the long takes and close up shots definitely add to the involving nature of the film. This film also uses the location to great effect, enhancing our engagement as the unforgiving wintery landscapes add to the shared feeling of desolation and isolation.
As the narrative enters the final third with a much darker and tragic tone I did feel the film lost its way slightly. The message the film is desperate to get across maybe feels a little forced, especially as it is pretty obvious what is going to happen. This does perhaps slightly undo some of the good work of the first two thirds, but as we have grown very fond of both characters this is forgivable. However the film never feels preachy in getting its moral message across which was always a risk. The running time is just about right too as what is essentially a very simple story is given enough time, as anymore would have descended into boring filler.
As a slow paced dialogue heavy film I know Boxing Day will not appeal to everyone, but I found it to be an extremely involving and personal drama/tragedy that was extremely watchable. It won’t change your life, but if you fancy watching something that requires a little bit of thought but is quite gentle, then I would most definitely recommend Boxing Day.