This modern day adaption of Tolstoy’s novella, written and directed by Bernard Rose, is the final part of a trilogy that began with Ivansxtc (2002) and The Kreutzer Sonata (2008). All three films star Danny Huston (21 Grams, The Aviator) portraying different characters. Here we see him play Basil, a family man in debt and desperate for a way out.
In the opening scene, it’s Christmas day in Los Angeles and Basil has a plan to get out of debt: buy foreclosed properties from banks at a fraction of their market value, refurbish them, and sell them for a quick and substantial profit. Before you think this is a film on “flipping houses”, it’s not the plan that is the premise, it’s the journey he goes on.
Although it’s Christmas, a holiday to spend with your wife and kids, he leaves, just like that, on a “trip”. He heads to the airport, where our location is now cold, snowy Denver. Here he is picked up by local chauffeur Nick, played by Matthew Jacobs (reprising his role as a driver). Jacobs is great as the British bloke who can’t seem to catch a break. He’s overweight and bald,and nothing seems to go right for him. Basil starts to tell him his money-making scheme as they drive around looking at different properties. He tells Nick how he’s going to,”profit on misfortunes….one has to seize the pot of gold when others are complacent, that’s when it is time to succeed.”
It quickly becomes clear that these two characters are from opposite walks of life and their contempt for each other is apparent. During their conversations, Nick explains that there is a tradition in Britain called “Boxing Day”, the day after Christmas where servants and employees receive gifts from their superiors. (But does Nick receive a gift in the end?)
As the film progresses, it seems like at every trip to each house, something always goes wrong! For example, there are several times where the car gets stuck in the snow. These mishaps continue to grow the divide between our characters who oscillate between protagonist and antagonist in a film that rarely takes a side or judges either but simply portrays their differences.
The last time our car becomes stuck is when the tension kicks into high gear. It’s dark, freezing, and desolate, and Basil is a long way from LA and his family. He is a desperate man- desperate for money and desperate to survive. Things turn for the worst when in his desperation, he abandons the car and Nick to save himself, trekking through snow so deep it levels to his knees. When he finally sees a light and believes there might be hope after all, it turns out to be just the car headlights and he ends up right back where he started.
It becomes clear that the venture Basil left his family for no longer matters. And perhaps these two characters at their core are not so different after all when faced with their own humanity. What matters is survival, but the question is for who?
To find out, check out the Los Angeles Film Festival screening schedule to catch this film.