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REVIEW | Legend of the Fall: Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales”

REVIEW | Legend of the Fall: Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales"

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot. Writer Jeff Reichert is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and is a Senior Vice President overseeing publicity and marketing at Magnolia Pictures.]

Like an angry hormonal teenager armed with a copy of Philip K. Dick‘s “Now Wait for Last Year” and a $100 lifetime subscription to, wannabe enfant terrible Richard Kelly has emerged from his post-“Donnie Darko” silence with the sprawling, ungainly “Southland Tales.” (After previously emerging in Cannes 2006 and withdrawing in the face of withering criticism to cut his film again.) Since I am, admittedly, an easy target for fiction – especially speculative fiction – in which ambition far outstrips execution, this overlong near-future madcap dystopia, populated by a motley assortment of stars past and present, should have been a slam-dunk for me. But while “Southland” seems intent on staking claim for itself as this generation’s “Blade Runner” or “Brazil,” it stumbles on its way to greatness (far, far away from it, actually), instead playing like a terribly conceived single-theme-episode of “Saturday Night Live” co-hosted by Sarah Michelle Gellar and The Rock. Special musical guest: Moby.

“Southland Tales”‘ supporters confuse sloppiness for sprawling, labyrinthine narrative. A filmmaker slipping a bit on the finer points of storytelling elegance in the face of expansive material is generally acceptable, but given that the slighter “Donnie Darko” (which sailed by on nervous energy and the belief–often valid–that a little slow motion covered with a pop song will win the day) also raised fears that Kelly wasn’t quite able to manage his constituent parts, I’m even less inclined to declare “Southland” any kind of planned auto-critique via disaster.

“Big” art is often compared these days to Thomas Pynchon, as if the famous recluse’s novels are only really remarkable because they’re long, an analysis which forgets that his shorter works, “The Crying of Lot 49” and “Vineland,” engage in similar narrative hi-jinks to their gargantuan brethren, on a more economical scale. Awareness that one can bend economy to his or her will when necessary should be a precondition for artists’ longer flights of fancy. As “Southland” wears on, and grows increasingly, dizzyingly (and meaninglessly) convoluted, it’s unclear what’s really at stake in its hysterical narrative. It calls to mind Spielberg’s “1941,” but with less humor, and less talent steering the proceedings.

Unlike Pynchon, Kelly’s unable to conjure up that simple “wow” factor of a new idea or unexpected collision of elements–watching the various plots of Pynchon’s “Against the Day” unpredictably rub up against each other offers the sense of a massive intelligence at work. Kelly’s scenarios are tired, his politics simpleminded (can we please move past Red vs. Blue? Any thoughtful analyst should realize by now the essential meaninglessness of this lazy media narrative). That everyone in the film generally looks like an ass–the preening Wallace Shawn, various “SNL”-ers done up like Suicide Girls waging an incomprehensible counter-rebellion, an amnesiac Dwayne Johnson sporting the most irritating gestural affectation in recent cinema memory (nonstop finger twiddling)–could be read as a leveling factor, but if this is meant to be the case, “Southland”‘s better left to the proctologists.

Like Dick’s “Now Wait for Last Year,” the political superstructure of “Southland Tales” boils down to a very simple question of personal responsibility and guilt. A nice idea, but yet another ill-considered gesture in a sea of thoughtlessness. It’s intriguing that the unspoken event shared by Seann William Scott and Justin Timberlake during the Iraq War was so monumental that some kind of supernatural reconciliation via space-time rifts need occur; yet its interest is nullified when it’s slapped on the film’s end like a cap to stem an unruly gush of nonsense.

It’s tempting to say–and we’ll surely hear–that there are just far too many ideas in “Southland Tales” for one movie, the unspoken implication being that any of its strands could serve as the basis for its own film. This is woefully incorrect. Nothing here is worth a film of its own, except perhaps its final revelation. If Kelly’s intent was to craft a work that functions entirely as meta-commentary, then the joke’s certainly on me. Somehow, I don’t think many viewers will be left amused.

[Jeff Reichert is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and is a Senior Vice President overseeing publicity and marketing at Magnolia Pictures.]

This Article is related to: Reviews



WELL SAID, rufustfirefly!


I don’t see the problem since his affiliation with Magnolia is included and people can draw their own conclusions.

He certanly isn’t the only person who has worked in the business and written criticism (though it has mostly been directors or screenwriters).

Though perhaps a compromise would be for him to write a blog rather than do formal reviews.

And I agree with him.

I wanted to like Southland Tales, buy it is a mess.

And I heard even more negative comments at a preview screening I went to Tuesday in San Francisco.

People should still see it and decide for themselves.

And hopefully we’ll have a chance to watch the original cut when it comes out on DVD and see if Manohla Dargis is right to “miss the 19 minutes shorn from it” (I think even more cuts might have made it a better film).


Definition: “A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust [e.g., a film critic] has competing professional or personal interests. A conflict of interest exists even if no unethical or improper act results from it. A conflict of interest can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the person or profession [or a particular news outlet]. A conflict can be mitigated by third party verification or third party evaluation, but it still exists.”

In other words, if being a credible journalistic source of film news and criticism is a goal of indieWIRE, then it should avoid conflicts of interest at all times and, thus, Reichert’s reviews should never have appeared on the site in the first place.

To use a more obvious example, would indieWIRE publish a review of MY KID COULD PAINT THAT or SLEUTH written by Harvey Weinstein? Or a review of DIVING BELL written by Bob Berney? Or a review of THERE WILL BE BLOOD written by Michael Barker?

Even if they did choose to publish such reviews (presumably in some Bizarro universe), they would have to come up with some specific context in which to present them, as opposed to an essentially nonchalant presentation of them as ‘straight’ reviews.

indieWIRE, in trying to be the Variety or THR for the indie film world, has a set of basic journalistic responsibilities and ethics to which it should adhere. Reverse Shot, on the other hand, is a very different kind of journal. In the same way that Film Comment, Cineaste, Cahiers du Cinema, or, for that matter, Joe’s Film-Blog-o-rama, do not need to stand for the kind of objectivity and arms-length jounalistic trust that a trade paper should, part of Reverse Shot’s identity is that many of its key contributors are industry insiders.

While indieWIRE may not be The Paper of Record, it should at least try to stay a couple rungs above the wild west of the blogosphere, at least in matters of ethics covered in Journalism 101.

jersey girl in la

And–I’d really, really like to hear back from Indiewire.

jersey girl in la

Not an attack. At all. On Reichert or Indiewire. I think those of us questioning the decision to have industry execs writing reviews have been pretty clear that we’re merely uncomfortable with Indiewire’s choice to use such reviewers, and questioning whether it’s necessary. I’m curious why the reactions on the other side of the fence are so strong . . .I was under the impression we’re having a dicussion here.


“The reviews section of indieWIRE is set aside from the other sections for a reason …”

just to add … exactly. But this actually makes the point why this is situation is problematic. Review sections are set off from the rest of the industry news to underscore the difference, in part, between art and commerce.

Having an industry executive review films in the review section blurs that line and muddies the waters, no matter what the actual intentions of the publication or the reviewer.


“But this outsized attacking on the integrity and nature of this publication or writer is frankly ludicrous.”

I certainly hope no one would take my comments as attacking anyone’s integrity. It seems to me that there is some honest confusion as to what is appropriate, rather than anything underhanded. The simple fact of the matter is that while, again, there’s a lot more gray than black and white, in the field of criticism, this is a pretty cut and dry case: it’s a conflict of interest.

I should be clear that i don’t see any reason why Reichert any other film loving exec of any company couldn’t write retrospective critical film essays or stuff like that. He or others shouldn’t be bannned from ever writing about movies again just because they also work in the industry. If at some point in the future he wrote an essay about why Southland Tales sucks and is indicative of some current trend in indie film, for instance, that would not be problematic at all.

But the fact of the matter is that a negative review the week a film opens can have an impact on a film’s bottom line, especially small art house and independent films the performance of which can be largely review driven. That said, if the director of publicity for Dreamworks slammed Spider Man 3 in Variety’s official review of that film, it would still be problematic, despite its having zero impact on the box office of that film.


In some of these comments, there is an undercurrent that seems to rely on the notion of a “studio executive” as a completely un-creative, non-thinking, ruthlessly profit-oriented entity. While such entities surely exist, I think it would be a shame to foreclose the possibility that there are some execs, particularly in the indie world, who know and care a whole lot about movies. I also think it’s important to protect the opportunity to lead multiple careers, something that our culture makes very difficult, but which Reichert has managed to do quite admirably.

JerseyGirl asks, “What about directors and producers, and are those guys reviewing films by their peers?” Well, they were in France in the 1950s and ’60s.

martin dantich

There are very few points raised in this whole thing that haven


I don’t expect anyone to ever achieve perfect purity. Critics are people, after all, who live in the same capitalist world we all do. They have friends and family, some of whom may make movies for a living. At the same time, critics are and have always been dependent on the industry for access to the films that they review — a dependency that distribs and studios can sometimes try to yield to their advantage by threatening to cut off access to one film, in order to chasten a critic who gave a bad review to another. The critic who depends on advanced screenings of films is of a different order, however, than those film journalists who feed at the trough of the studios at junkets. There is no “pure” state in which a critic lives in relation to the industry. There are only degrees of compromise and conflict.

But come on. An employee of one film distribution company should never be assigned to review a film of another company. Never. Period. End of story. It’s Journalism Ethics 101. And Recihert, when he is reviewing a film for a trade publication like indiewire is a journalist, no matter what other hats he might wear on his day job.

As someone who sustained himself for many years solely on income made as a film critic, i can tell you, it isn’t easy. I am no saint but over the course of my career i have turned down assignments solely because i was friends with the filmmaker — let alone being in the employ of his or her dsitributor’s competitor! I’ve sinced moved to other side of the fence as a programmer and i would never even think about reviewing a series put on by another programming institution. There isn’t even a question in my mind. Then again, maybe that’s because i went to journalism school instead of film school. And maybe that difference is also why some people seem unable to recognize the inherent ethical problem in this scenario.

That said, i could name a half dozen great journalists and critics still struggling right now to pay their bills solely as journalists and critics who would probably jump at the chance to review for indiewire, still a great publication, no matter what it paid — all while avoiding any conflict of interest.


I find this ‘my understanding of integrity has been shattered’ position, taken by people like Meyer Gottleib and Jonathan Miller absurd. As I recall, the Miller who here is all-too-eager to clamor up to moral high ground works for First Run/Icarus Films, who a few years ago welcomed Gary Crowdus, the editor of Cineaste, as a staff member. And as for Gottleib, I wonder if he would have had the same objection had Reichert’s review been positive. This tired old panties-in-a-bunch-whenever-it’s-convenient harping reveals a pettiness and balkanization that’s a much, much larger problem than a perceived (as a longtime reader of Reichert, I can testify to the fact that it really is just perceived, and I challenge anyone to build a convincing case to the contrary) conflict of interest. If Gottleib had confidence in his film, he wouldn’t be so concerned about this review. The fact that Indiewire is publishing reviews from an articulate enthusiast who has demonstrated a passion for and knowledge about film in both the personal and professional spheres is a good thing. Indiewire could resort to tactics favored by a lot of other web publications (how about reader reviews? That would sure help the quality!), but I hardly think that would improve the integrity; and I assume the pay for Indiewire reviews isn’t lucrative enough that Reichert, or any other writer, could sustain himself financially through that alone. Perhaps instead of quibbling about a non-issue, people like Gottleib and Miller should focus on releasing better films. Then they don’t need to worry about bad reviews. As for readers, people who are serious about reading reviews (which, of course, is an unfortunately small number) know better than to quibble about this—you don’t need to glower over a reviewer’s byline (do you know anything about most of the reviewers you read?) to know if it’s worthwhile. Be thoughtful–read the review. If it’s good, it will speak for itself.

Oh, and a disclaimer: I occasionally write for Reverse Shot. And I used to work in the business, though I no longer do. So of course, my opinion is undoubtedly completely invalid (though, in that case, so is that of pretty much every single person engaging in this conversation).

jersey girl in la

So it’s okay as long as you’re up front about your conflict of interest? I have never noticed the Magnolia Pictures affiliation before, but you can bet I’ll be paying attention now and wondering every time I read a review whether the writers have other similar conflicts of interest. (I’m curious how many other Indiewire writers are also studio execs? Any studios bankrolling Indiewire that we should know about? What about directors and producers, and of those guys reviewing films by their peers?) Not to dump on Reichert–I’ve always liked his reviews and I’m sure he really did dislike this movie. But Indiewire has got to keep its integrity here. Are we so short on writers that we can’t find other reviewers without any stake in the matter?

Eric Hynes

Corruption? Pulleeze. The self-righeousness in this string is off the rails. Let’s face it, everyone in this community (which still exists, right? marco…echo…) lives in a glass house, so stone-throwing doesn’t spare anyone. At least Reichert wears his conflict-of-interest on his sleeve: he’s been writing reviews for indieWIRE for 3 years, and every single review has listed his Magnolia affiliation. That this has only now become an issue makes me wonder what the real conflict is in this matter. I guess “corruption” is okay so long as it benefits us all, but once we start being negative…


I sure hope indieWIRE doesn’t just ignore this conflict of interest, in the hope that it will go away over time. It is essential to the integrity of your publication that this – and other conflicts of interest – are rooted out and eliminated. The failure to do so will show us, the readers, that the credibility of every single review and news article featured on indieWIRE is suspect. Sorry to be so blunt, but corruption, whether intentional or by negligence, is unacceptable.

jersey girl in la

Nowhere in any of these comments is anyone attacking Reichert, although Eamon Bowles is doing plenty of attacking of his own. It’s kind of interesting that if this was really an impartial review that had nothing to do with Magnolia, that we haven’t heard back from Jeff Reichertt–and only from his boss at Magnolia.


By and large, the folks at Reverse Shot have proven themselves time and again to be a pack of humorless, self-righteous twits. I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing about a movie that met their approval. I really, really don’t know why Indiewire keeps publishing them.

This latest BS takes the cake. Reichert’s reviewing a competitor’s film is a flagrant conflict of interest. Indiewire shouldn’t have allowed this, and you need to take a step back and think about dumping Reverse Shot.


oh and to answer the question whether good or bad reviews even matter any more, certainly situations like this don’t really help matters …


“jeff reichert has not given a negative review to a magnolia film. nor a positive one.”

So he hasn’t reviewed any Magnolia films sicne he was hired? Has he officially recused himself from doing so? Would you be okay with him writing a negative review of a Magnolia film in indiewire?


First of all I had to ask what the hell Redacted was. Secondly, did anyone else notice this film from Magnolia comes out on Friday as well? And we’re still asking questions about whether this review was a conflict of interest?

eamonn bowles

thanks meyer. i’m getting fitted for my collar and halo next week.

and no, jeff reichert has not given a negative review to a magnolia film. nor a positive one.


Writing creatively is a personal endeavor. Criticizing someone else’s work in a public forum, especially one that is considered a source of sound reporting, is something entirely different because it has the potential to have a significant impact on someone else’s personal endeavor. I’m assuming when I read a review that the critic (of course) has a wealth of knowledge and life experiences that contribute to his opinion of the work-there’s no value in a review otherwise. But I’m also assuming that the critic has no axe to grind, no preconceived agenda, and certainly no business interests at stake. It’s not a question of whether the writer in this case was biased or not. I’m sure there a lot of industry professionals can remain objective about their own films and about those released by other companies. But the fact that there’s even a chance that a writer might not be is enough of a reason to make readers like me second guess his opinion and as a result, Indiewire’s judgment as well. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a publisher that allows its staff to moonlight as book reviewers, or a CEO of a record company who writes op ed pieces about another label’s albums. I love Indiewire and what you guys stand for, but the news that your writer works for a studio came as a fairly unpleasant surprise to me. I’m of the opinion that only in an “insider-y” piece is that ever really okay. The fact that Jeff Reichert does this and his company allows him to do so is their own business. But I’m hoping Indiewire holds by a more responsible sense of what journalism should be.


Can I churn the waters even further by saying that this conversation is currently pointless pending a determination on whether good or bad reviews even matter anymore?


thanks for the points PMALCOM. good points, good questions.

and i meant to reiterate earlier how valuable this discussion is, and i wanted to also offer my personal email address to anyone who may not wish to post their comments on this site. you can reach me at: eugene [at symbol] thanks.

now i have to run out to see a movie! but i will be reading all the feedback and points when i get back. thanks.


Um, how exactly could one ever prove “bias” in a film review? Reviews are, by definition, bias. The question here is, how can you tell if a reviewer


Let me throw out, for the purposes of my own information. I take the previous comment to heart — “I’m sure a lot of industry people also write creatively, but being a reviewer is a whole different story.” i would like to hear why that is. why is criticism different. or maybe, what is it about criticism that makes it different?

and i ask this out of genuine curiousity, not to sound patronizing or to imply i know the answer! i am listening and learning here!

thanks, eugene at indieWIRE


Wow. I’m amazed this even up for discussion. How does ANYONE reading this not see this as a conflict? I’m sure a lot of industry people also write creatively, but being a reviewer is a whole different story. Magnolia sure seems to have plenty of strong words in response to a very politely worded letter and legitimate expression of concern.

meyer gottlieb

Eamonn, I didn’t know you were a Saint or that you even joined the priesthood. Good for you and Mazel Tov! Meyer

eamonn bowles

and no, i wouldn’t have a problem with a critic working at another film company if i thought their coverage was honest and dealt with the film fairly. this is a pretty tight community and mostly made up of true film fans. many people who work in the film world sideline as writers. if they displayed some bias in their writing, then you bet your ass i’d be yelling to whomever would listen. but that’s clearly not the case here and i really resent the inference, by your public statement, that the review was not on the up and up. if you had a problem with the integrity of the website, you could have contacted the people involved privately, instead of a public declaration that calls into question someone’s integrity. where was the public outcry when jeff reichert wrote the very favorable review for your film ‘walk on water’?

eamonn bowles

well, ok. “i think redacted will change the face of modern art as we know it.” – eamonn bowles, magnolia tribune


This is a valid point, and should be taken very seriously. Regardless of the actual or perceived quality of the film, it should not, under any circumstances, be reviewed by an executive from a competing company. It is impossible for someone to claim impartiality in this situation, no matter how well-intentioned they claim to be. I’m surprised at how polite Meyer Gottlieb’s letter was, considering the conflict of interest and incredibly negative review. Mr. Reichert’s review should be removed immediately and replaced by a review from a non-conflicted source.

meyer gottlieb

Eamonn, if I am off base, you are out of the ballpark or worse, not even in the game. I am simply talking about the basic principle of journalistic integrity. I always believed that in journalism even a “perceived conflict of interest” was bad form. It’s not about a good or bad review and Jeff Reichert’s credibility is not at issue here. As a distributor, we always hope that audiences will find our films engaging and provocative. But, positive or negative, an employee of one distributor reviewing the films of another for indieWIRE – a trade publication – is a conflict of interest. Period. If we were to follow your point of view, there would be nothing wrong in having you, as the head of Magnolia, review your “own” films! Your friend, Meyer

jonathan miller

And what is the outcoming of the digging? You don’t say.


Thanks for all the feedback. And just an FYI. We’ve been digging into this issue a bit on my personal blog, as well:


This shouldn’t even be up for debate. It’s a clear conflict of interest. He shouldn’t have been assigned the review.

jonathan miller

It is commendable of Eamonn Bowles to defend the integrity of his employee, but the issue for most readers of indiewire is, i think, not really whether or not Jeff Reichert’s review expressed his true feelings about this particular film or not.

The fact seems to be uncontested that he works for one film distribution company, and is writing reviews about films released by competing companies, which is by definition a conflict of interest, and so the issue for many of us is – and this is directed at the editors of indiewire – is that ok as a matter of editorial policy, or should the editors ensure that there are no conflicts (or apparent conflicts) between a critic and what he or she is writing about?

In Manhola Dargis took a consulting job with SPC, would that be ok with you? Or would it be ok for times readers in general? I doubt it.

eamonn bowles

meyer, you’re way off base on this one. anyone who would impugn jeff reichert’s imartiality and credibility has obviously never done even cursory research on the subject. reverse shot has given terrible reviews to many magnolia films (check out bubble, fay grim, severance and jesus camp), and jeff has written very favorably about idp films such as squid and the whale, mountain patrol, and walk on water. the implication of a conflict of interest is frankly ludicrous in substance. southland tales, for whatever one thinks of it pro or con, has had a very public track record of critic polarization, to be kind. to suggest a negative review on a film, especially one garnering such divergent opinions, is somehow motivated by some professional competition is frankly absurd. and for the record, there have been a number of idp employess who have written for reverse shot. i have no questions about their integrity and they’ve demonstrated no competitive bias in their reviews. if there had been any previous evidence of bias, by all means call it out. but don’t stand on an issue that in this case has no substance.


nice try, but what the hell is “in direct competition” with southland tales? it’s from another frickin’ planet.


EDITORS NOTE: The following is a letter to the editor received by indieWIRE tonight after our publication of a “Southland Tales” review earlier today.

To the Editors,

The review of Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” (“Legend of the Fall: Richard Kelly’s ‘Southland Tales'”) was written by the Senior Vice President of publicity and marketing for Magnolia Pictures (“INDUSTRY MOVES | Quinn and Reichert Upped at Magnolia,” August 8, 2007).

Magnolia itself is a distributor of theatrical films. Mr. Reichert cannot be viewed as an independent critic, especially since his responsibilities include the overall release strategy and positioning of films that are in direct competition with “Southland Tales” for publicity, advertising, screens and box office.

We feel that it is inappropriate for indieWIRE to publish any review written by someone who has a direct conflict with the film he/she is reviewing. It is our hope that such conflicts of interests will no longer occur.

Meyer Gottlieb

President, Samuel Goldwyn Films


Wow. Not only do them Magnolia Boys seem to be jurying or programming every film festival, they’re writing reviews on Indiewire too? Conspiracy? Maybe Richard Kelly should make about about that.

jonathan miller

And what do the editors of Indiewire have to say about this? Anything?

Given that the editor of Indiewire recently questioned my “Film Comment” article on “mumblecore” for being too “personal,” by which I can only imagine that he meant he felt “personally” attacked for his involvement in hyping a non-existent movement,I now must wonder if he also misunderstands the meaning of professionalism. For the record, I think “Southland Tales” is a terrific movie, and there’s nothing personal about this critical assessment except that it is written by a thinking, feeling human being, who also has no professional conflict of interest in the matter. Yrs., amy taubin

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