June 6, 2011

That Crazy Nicolas Cage Marathon: Wild at Heart (David Lynch)

Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage hit the road in Wild at Heart.

Like Raising Arizona, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is one of those films I’ve intended to see but just never got around to watching. Thanks to the greatness of the That Crazy Nicolas Cage Marathon, it was time to sit down for this vicious road movie.

Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) are in love, but it drives her mom Marietta (Dianne Ladd) crazy, so she does the sensible thing and tries to have him killed. He survives but ends up in jail for manslaughter after the brutal fight. When Sailor leaves jail, he meets up with Lula for a road trip to California. Along the way, they have great fun but are being pursued by several bands of vicious killers. While Marietta grows crazier, Sailor and Ripley face their own challenges in a creepy small town. After they meet the slimy, two-faced Bobby Peru (Willem Defoe), it seems unlikely they’ll survive much longer.

How Crazy is Nicolas Cage?

Totally insane. He’s the ultimate master of high kicks, ridiculous dancing, and belting out convincing Elvis tunes. Sailor also dons an excellent snakeskin jacket that he calls a “symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” Although it’s an outlandish performance, Cage also creates one of his more effective roles. The shenanigans don’t feel forced and sit comfortably in Lynch’s world. The Elvis performances could fail miserably but actually mesh well with Cage’s persona. Sailor isn’t the brightest guy and makes poor choices, but he’s never dull, which is impressive accomplishment.

Cage definitely plays it big, but Laura Dern matches him in each scene as Lula. The couple’s road trip is wild and fun during its early stages, but it just takes a few psychotic hitmen to ruin anyone’s good time. Grace Zabriskie was chilling as Laura Palmer’s mother on Twin Peaks and even creepier during Inland Empire, but this performance takes the cake. She only appears in a few scenes but makes a terrifying impression as a hired killer. One brief scene involving Zabriskie,  David Patrick Kelly, and Harry Dean Stanton is one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve watched in a long time. Speaking of disturbing, I haven’t even mentioned Willem Defoe, whose awful teeth and slicked-back hair are scary enough before he even starts talking. Finally, the big winner in scenery chewing is Dianne Ladd, who’s forced by Lynch to go through all manners of hell playing Marietta.

No matter what you think about his movies, David Lynch is definitely an original filmmaker. Wild at Heart shows Lynch near the top of his craft, even though it does stumble a bit in his final act. There’s so much creative energy firing during the first hour that it seems almost impossible for it to keep going until the end. There are so many signature Lynch moments right from the start, and he’s not afraid to take chances, even when he fails. The movie's filled with connections to the Wizard of Oz, a move that could seem forced, but it actually works pretty well. Lynch is especially nasty on his female characters, especially Lula and Marietta, which adds a dark, unfortunate tinge to the entire picture.

Defoe’s Bobby Peru is involved in two of the film’s nastiest moments, for much different reasons. First of all, his frightening moves towards Lula show just how sadistic his character can be. The other scene involves his bloody demise, which is laughably ridiculous. Another signature moment shows Sailor and Lula dancing the night away to the sweet sounds of the speed metal band Powermad. When a young hoodlum tries to get friendly with her, Sailor shows his superior brand of toughness and the serenades her with the Elvis tune "Love Me".

A less exciting sequence involves the aftermath of a brutal car accident. Lula and Sailor meet a dazed young woman played by Sherilyn Fenn. She’s not making much sense, and they quickly realize she’s on death’s door. This sequence is strangely comic at first, but it quickly shifts gears as Fenn drifts away. I should also mention the lengthy driving scene that uses the instrumental part of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" as the effective background score. This haunting sequence is definitely a far cry from seeing Isaak dancing on a beach with a supermodel in that hit video.

Wild at Heart rests slightly below Lynch’s best work (Mulholland Drive, the Twin Peaks pilot), but it provides a highly original experience. Cage and Dern have rarely been better, and the bizarre supporting characters help to create a unique world of violence and mayhem. Lynch takes a lot of chances throughout the movie and delivers an unpredictable, entertaining ride.

Other Nicolas Cage Marathon Reviews

Raising Arizona
Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

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