Danny Huston taking the lead role in a Bernard Rose adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy novel has become something of a familiarity, following on previous projects Ivansxtc (2000) and The Kreutzer Sonata (2008). The pair reunite once more for Boxing Day (2012), based on Tolstoy’s Master and Man, as we follow a ruthless proprietor named Basil (Huston) who, alongside his chauffeur Nick (Matthew Jacobs), travels through a blizzard to purchase property. Basil is a conceited property owner, and one who is always looking for a hard bargain, so much so that he ditches his family and ventures out on Boxing Day to search for a cheap woodland estate.
Picking him up from the airport is the reformed alcoholic Nick, who sacrifices his day for some paid work. However as the pair journey through small villages and towns across the US state of Colorado, the dangerous weather conditions and lack of signal for their satellite navigation system not only threatens their trip, but their lives. Rose does a wonderful job in putting you in the protagonists’ shoes, in what is a pensive, slow-burning production, as the audience are taken on this long and arduous trip with Basil and Nick, enhanced by the bleak, chilling aesthetic implemented, as Rose manages to emanate the feeling of coldness.
There’s a truly tangible sense of realism throughout Boxing Day, with Rose’s voyeuristic and often shaky handheld camerawork – despite making you feel a little queasy at times – an effective technique as it causes us to peer in at them as if it’s a documentary. The film is effectively a study of character and social class, looking at the differences between this arrogant landowner and a humble peasant, and the two central leads are nothing short of outstanding. Although we naturally dislike Basil and empathise with Nick, Rose cleverly ensures that both roles are identifiable: as where Basil displays a warm, caring side, Nick can also come across as being quite unpitying, complete with his own distinctly shady past.
However, we aren’t provided with a lengthy back story to either character. We simply learn that Basil is happy to abandon his family on Boxing Day, while Nick is seen fighting for his, but being denied access to his child. This may only be a small nugget of information about the two, but it represents their personalities and makes all the difference. Their dynamic is traditional in a sense – similar in a way to that of John Hughes’ 1987 comedy classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles – and it’s from this relationship that the picture derives its dark humour.
Customarily, Boxing Day is an occasion where, following on from the gluttony and indulgence of the Christmas period, we take a moment to reflect and give something back. Well, by this theory Rose is maintaining such traditions, as he presents us with this gift in the form of a movie, and one you should most certainly seek out to receive.