Boxing Day is the best British film you almost certainly won't see at the cinema this year (assuming, of course, you got off your backside to watch the fabulously black Sightseers like I told you). It is a very bold statement in support of the BFI (British Film Institute) who supported it and a tragedy that something so beautifully written, so convincingly acted and almost flawlessly produced will disappear from trace with a minuscule audience while utter tripe like Jack Reacher will fill the multiplexes.
Neither principal actor is a huge star and there is less traditional excitement in Boxing Day than in Spielberg's superb breakthrough Duel, another road movie in which not much happens, but this is a compelling, riveting film with two excellent performances that amuse, anger, frustrate and draw the viewer in absolutely. Its 94-minute running time passes in a short breath and lingers quietly, definitely, on the long walk home that is too short to absorb the impact of this wonderful film.
Boxing Day is loosely based upon Tolstoy's Master and Man, but don't let Russian names put you off; this is a far cry from this year's Anna Karenina. It's a film about the clash of two classes, about capitalism and socialism, but don't worry that you're not interested in politics. Boxing Day is a film about humanity. It is a film about two men, two human beings and how, in that at least, they are identical.
Basil (Danny Huston – you know him from 30 Days of Night, Robin Hood and The Conspirator etc.) is a property speculator who has hit hard times and sniffs an opportunity to make a killing buying repossessed houses directly from the banks at half their market value. He virtually sneaks out of the family home on Boxing Day, much to his wife's annoyance and flies to Denver to view the properties in the company of his chauffeur for the day, Nick (Matthew Jacobs – forget it, you don't know him but he's a very busy writer and if you close your eyes, you'll swear it is Eddie Izzard upon the screen).
Chalk and cheese, left and right – take your pick. Basil has a superior attitude, is successful, demanding, opinionated while Nick is a failure, a dry alcoholic, camp, annoying, unreliable. But that is too simplistic. They are two very different men who build a relationship over many hours of driving and battling snow and ice. Both are needy, both need each other and both reluctantly know it.
To refer to either Huston or Jacobs as the supporting actor would be to insult them both. It is a joy to watch Huston take the (joint) lead in a significant film after eons of supporting turns and to watch his Basil relax and unfold as a man who, at his core, is afraid that he is impotent to affect the world. This isn't just an unpleasant capitalist who disregards all others at the expense of his success, although certainly that is part of his make-up. Neither is Jacobs' Nick merely a weak, sniveling wretch. Buried inside his troubled being is a moralistic man who has maybe not been able to seize opportunity as it came his way.
Together they are a maelstrom of foibles, idiosyncrasies and beliefs and they are variably selfish, bitter and caring. They are men on a harsh, warm, tender journey through a day in the life.
So much of the joy in watching Boxing Day is in Bernard Rose's direction. He is unafraid to hold shots long after other directors would fear accusations of tedium. Much of the film occurs in the confines of a single car where multiple camera angles are impossible, but rather than see that as restrictive, Rose lingers caringly and it will only cause discomfort in those who are unwilling to engage emotionally with the enormity of what is occurring so simplistically.
I query whether the ultimate message is mixed or slightly misses the mark but this is such a small criticism and, though Boxing Day could easily have delved a little deeper for slightly longer, it is as close to a ten star film as I have got this year without actually awarding the top mark.
To paraphrase a friend who heeded my emphatic urging to see Boxing Day, it is hard to imagine so large an audience anywhere else willingly watching so long and so silently a grey screen after the final credits have rolled.
Boxing Day is an absolute gem that no one will see. Don't make that mistake. See it. NOW!
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