Holes marks the transition from television to film for Shia LeBeouf. He had stared in multiple seasons of Even Stevens on Disney Channel by the time this film came around. He is the main character, Caveman. This film is an adaptation of the Book of the same name by Louis Sachar, which I have never read. Sigourney Weaver plays the warden for the work camp Caveman is sent to. She is assisted by Jon Voigt as Mr. Sir. Dulé Hill and Patricia Arquette play lovers in the old west from the flashback scenes.
I do not think that this book, or film, was created as a commentary on the penal system in the United States, but you could draw some parallels if you wanted. Private prisons with limited oversight are ripe targets for corruption as is the case with this work camp and its lax hiring policies. The film leaves it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
Caveman’s real name is Stanley Yelnats IV because all the men in his family name their male sons the same thing. The family has been cursed for four generations. The film leans heavily on luck and being powerless over one's destiny. As you would expect for a Disney film, luck changes and everything works out perfectly. I do not think that is a great message for the target audience because we do have power over our destiny and luck is not everything. Blaming an external source for all your problems will not lead to a successful or happy life.
Friendship is another main theme of the film. Zero, Khleo Thomas, is a fast digging, often mute, fellow prisoner, of Caveman. He is the low man on the totem pole of the hierarchy of the group. Caveman becomes Zero’s friend and starts teaching him to read. It makes sense that you would want a companion during your miserable time at a work camp. Zero does have some remorse about Caveman being at the camp, but the friendship seems genuine non-the-less.
The movie has multiple flashbacks that are started with a softening of focus, a slow down in time, and shakiness to the camera moves. It is jarring and irritating. It feels like the moment before you pass out. Other times the slowdown of time is used for artistic effect without a jump to the flashback story. It is not a visual effect that I enjoy, and I do not think it serves the movie very well. Star Wars gets away with wipes between scenes, but this transition is nauseating by design.
I find it hard to pick out the one moral or lesson that Sachar wanted the viewer/reader to take away from this movie. It is a bit of a choose your conclusion type of film, which feels a bit lazy to me. Even if your objective is to entertain, there should be a unifying theme and there just is not one.