From the Friday, Nov. 30 Oregonian ....
"Holly" is a fairly good movie about a very evil subject.
The film's press notes tell us that "Holly" co-writer/producer Guy Jacobson was propositioned by pre-teen prostitutes in Cambodia five years ago. The experience inspired him to launch a three-film assault on the horrors of Phnom Penh's child sex trade.
"Holly" is the fictional film of that trio -- a tragic story about Patrick, an American expatriate with a shady past (Ron Livingston) who obsesses over how to rescue Holly (Thuy Nguyen), a 12-year-old virgin sold to a brothel by her parents. The other two movies in the trio, "The Virgin Harvest" and "The K11 Journey," are documentaries about Cambodian sex-trade victims and the filming of "Holly" and "Virgin" in the very red-light districts the other movies condemn.
Knowing all this leaves me wondering if I'd be more affected by the documentaries than I was by "Holly." Because "Holly"'s strongest suit -- far stronger than its story, alas -- is its incredible sense of place. Co-writer/director Guy Moshe calmly captures Phnom Penh's red-light district as a stained marketplace of neon and dust and desperation and casual corruption, but his camera never tumbles into lurid melodramatic sleaze the way "Trade" did recently.
Performances in the film are also strong. Ron Livingston is a low-key actor who tends to default toward the slouch, so it's wonderful to watch him quietly plunge into dark territory here. Patrick's Sir Galahad complex causes him to take ill-considered risks with his life and Holly's -- and Livingston makes small, smart choices that convey Patrick's growing realization that he's a vexed man without much of a plan.
Thuy Nguyen is even better, bouncing like an adolescent between stubbornness, childishness and an increasingly jaded survivalism. The best scene in the movie is one where Patrick realizes just how in over his head he is, as Holly tries to comprehend the actions of a man who wants to save her, not marry or defile her; she lashes out at imagined rivals for Patrick's affections, yelling, "I love you! I kill you!" It's heartbreaking.
(It's also heartbreaking to see Chris Penn in a supporting role, given that he died in January 2006.)
It's a shame the script isn't quite on par with all of the above. At least two of Patrick's reunions with Holly are fraught with coincidences that are frankly silly -- at one point, they literally run toward each other from opposite sides of the city by accident -- and it's deeply at odds with the deliberate pace and documentary feel of the rest of the movie. And Virginie Ledoyen and Udo Kier pop in periodically to recite human-rights stats and/or speak floridly about the joys of prostitutes (I've leave you to guess which does which), and it feels a little diagrammatic and talent-squandering.
Still, the movie's mission is admirable. "Holly"'s companion documentaries may fulfill that mission in a far more direct and effective manner.
B-minus; 114 minutes; rated R for disturbing sexual situations involving children, and for language.
'Holly' (The Oregonian, Nov. 30, 2007)