Review: The Big Empty [2004] - dir. Steve Anderson

JOHN PERSON (Jon Favreau) is a 30-something struggling actor living alone and facing eviction from his unfurnished apartment in Hollywood. Behind on his rent and heavily in debt, he goes against the better judgment of his pretty neighbor GRACE (Joey Lauren Adams) and accepts an unsolicited offer from his strange neighbor NEELY (Bud Cort) to courier a blue suitcase up to the desert truck stop of Baker, California.

There, in the middle of nowhere, at a seedy motel in the shadow of The World's Largest Thermometer, he'll simply deliver the locked suitcase to a trucker called COWBOY (Sean Bean) and be paid twenty-seven thousand dollars in cold, hard cash. John's given a loaded gun and told he must defend the blue suitcase with his life. It's easy money... or is it?
Now it's not often that I surf the web and see such a divisive film as The Big Empty, this one really does fall into the 'love it or loathe it' category, well you'll be glad to know I fall very much into the love it category and let me try and explain why...
OK a quick overview... imagine, if you will, a film by John Dahl based on a book by Bill Hicks with a screenplay written by James Wong and you will be some way to getting an idea of where this film is coming from. From the casual conversational scripting to the breathtaking cinematography that captures the majesty of the Mojave better than most, this film was never intended to be easy or comfortable, it's raison d'etre is that it is convoluted and mysterious, leaving the viewer very much seeing everything from the perspective of the oft-confused John Person.

This is by far one of the best examples I have ever seen of an ensemble cast taking risks and having fun whilst they are doing it; Jon Favreau captures the desperation and un-wavering self belief of a 1000 failed LA acting wannabes whilst still being the likable 'everyman', Kelsey Grammer plays against type as the edgy FBI agent sent to hunt John Person down, and manages to pull off a performance he can be justifiably proud of. The stand outs for me though had to be Daryl Hannah and Rachael Leigh Cook, the former continuing what seems like a mission to expunge the teen princess image cultivated by such 80's 'classics'(!) as Splash and Roxanne, by playing a cynical, hard bitten bar owner and long suffering mother to Rachel Leigh Cook's Ruthie. Cook manages to capture the smoldering lolita-like sexuality with a bounce and verve that leads me to wonder why she never really 'made it big' (I refuse to count Josie & the Pussycats as BIG!).

If you loved Repo Man or were intrigued by the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, this film is definitely for you, if on the other hand you like a nice tidy plot that ties all the loose ends up at the end, then steer well clear... I'll leave you with a nugget of the kind of thing this movie inspires, that I unearthed on the web from an anonymous reviewer...

"We have all the tools that indicate whether or not any "Person"(John) is ready for the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the ever fearful looking "cowboy" who delivers the message to those who are willing to go to any length to get it.

Bob the Indian, one of AA's co founders, The "RUTH" lessness of alcohol and two stepping from an unknown origin. And when awakening to nothing once again, having only "GRACE" (of one's higher power) to ever be saved and the 12 steps to be placed in order once again.

Randy is self will run riot, and is the unfortunates-symbolism of constant regression and relapse. Dan and L. Ron (Hubbard) are just oddities mixed in.

If you never looked, and simply passed by the trucker town, you would never see what could actually save you and help your "road" of destiny not be travelled so rough, as Bob put it. Many other symbols, but this essentially grasps-in a dark humor, and wonderful way, if you are brave enough to change your life by standing in the middle of no where, powerless, and being patient.

See more conversation fodder if ever I read it...


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