In April of 2003, the greatest Western film of all time was released to the world. The movie “Holes” follows the story of a young boy, Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to a juvenile detention camp after allegedly stealing a pair of sneakers. Once there, Stanley discovers the true history of Camp Green Lake and makes lifelong friends along the way. Despite being brutalized by a ruthless authority of counselors, Stanley and his best friend, Hector Zeroni, uncover their shared history and restore balance to the punishing desert atmosphere that had plagued the both of them since their first day at Camp Green Lake.
The Great Western Movies Committee has a set of criteria that a film must meet to be considered a “Great Western Movie.” Following these criteria, the film “Holes” qualifies for the category of “Greatest Western Movie.” This title, in addition to other aspects of this film, has solidified it in my mind as the greatest western film in cinematic history.
The first piece of criteria for a good Western film is the setting. Is it in the Wild West? “Holes” takes place in Texas, so it definitely fits into that category. The next requirement is that the film demonstrates usage of traditional western themes. Some classic western themes include race relations, man against nature, self-reliance and anarchy, among many more. “Holes” embodies all of these themes and presents them in a progressive and creative manner. There are race relations, since the film depicts the prison industrial complex in America and its prejudice against people of color. There are “man against nature” themes where the unforgiving desert landscape works against the characters and their lofty initiatives. There is a sort of self-reliance showcased throughout the film where each character is required to dig holes every day in order to get basic privileges in the camp. Anarchy erupts when all of the characters team up to overthrow the camp’s governing body. Essentially, “Holes” meets and exceeds the minimum requirements for its use of traditional western themes.
The Western Movie Committee stresses how difficult it is to have a good western film with a strong story and equally strong performances by actors. With its story originally stemming from the eponymous book by Louis Sachar, which won the 1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newberry Medal, “Holes” has a riveting story. Louis Sachar took the liberty of writing the movie script as well, meaning that it stays true to his original compelling story. In addition, Shia LaBeouf makes his mark on the Hollywood industry by giving one of the greatest performances of his lifetime. The movie also features stars including Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Eartha Kitt and Patricia Arquette.
A good western movie needs to have classic western cinematography, and “Holes” embodies this fully by providing the audience with breathtaking views of the wild west, giant blue skies and exotic wildlife. The next requirement is that the movie has to have a “re-watch-ability” factor. I can speak from personal experience when I say I have watched this movie and enjoyed it dozens of times. In addition, it has aged incredibly well and is still relevant and relatable to this day with teachers still assigning the book to their students. “Holes” also introduces non-traditional elements, including the strength and power of youth, unbreakable friendships, supportive families and mysterious curses, a sign of a great western film.
While it meets all of these criteria, Holes manages to go above and beyond with the rest of the treasures wrapped up in this movie: it includes a heartwarming love story between a white woman and a black man, as well as a poignant critique of the idea of forced labor to build character. The soundtrack features Grammy-winning song “Just Like You” by Keb’ Mo’, and other hits including “Dig It” by the D-Tent Boys, “Keep’n It Real” by Shaggy, “Honey” by Moby and “If Only” by Fiction Plane. “Holes” garnered major praise from film critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who noted that it had a certain “dusty loneliness,” as if “actually in a limitless desert.” He continues to praise the cinematography, stating that the cinematographer, Stephen St. John, “thinks big, and frames his shots for an epic feel that adds weight to the story.” He even concedes to walking in “expecting a movie for thirteen-somethings and [walking] out feeling challenged and satisfied.”
The movie “Holes” not only exceeds expectations as a movie directed toward youth, it reinvents the entire western movie theme and redefines traditional western film tropes that have remained wholly unchanged throughout the past hundred years. Gaining immense praise from all over the globe, “Holes” has rightfully earned its acclaimed spot in cinematic history. Stanley Yelnats and Hector Zeroni’s story will continue to live on until the last light burns out in the Milky Way.