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The Universal Blu-ray is £7.50 on amazon at time of writing.
David Lynch is one of my favourite directors, but he can be maddeningly inconsistent. His best work is queasy, dream-like (or nightmarish, if you prefer) and uniquely funny. His ability to mix terrifying machismo with sinister, inexplicably ritualistic behaviour puts him head and shoulders above most horror directors, even if his movies aren't always a perfect genre fit. But it does feel sometimes like he struggles to accommodate his weirdo ideas into coherent narratives. At his best (Blue Velvet, bits of Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) he creates work which is immensely satisfying in its blend of the scary, the loopy and the meaninglessly esoteric. But on other occasions, his films can fall a bit flat.
I hadn't seen Wild At Heart for some years - I'd always written it off as the poor relation among Lynch's films. It was made just after Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks had made him famous, and it felt a bit too calculated, as if it makes too many concessions to a mass audience. Having seen it again, I can't say I've really changed my mind.
Young white trash lovers Sailor and Lula go on the run, fleeing Lula's vengeful mother, who has them tailed by a private detective, and then sends her gangster lover's terrifying hitmen after them.
The film is based on a novel by Barry Gifford which I've not read, but which is the start of a series. Lynch apparently changed various plot elements, including the ending. But it feels like he's taken a fairly ordinary genre story and tried to Lynch it up by cranking the weirdness factor up to eleven.
It's fundamentally a road movie, with the young lovers trying to stay ahead of their pursuers. Both have things in their pasts that they're reluctant to own up to, and Sailor has just got out of prison for manslaughter. But it all feels a bit conventional. Blue Velvet also has quite a routine plot - a young man stumbling across organised crime in his hometown - but the way it unfolds the story, and the way the evil manifests itself, are so strange that they feel like nothing you've seen before. In Wild At Heart, the characters drift in and out of the orbit of various odd characters and experience some strange things; but the odd moments feel contrived, like they're a diversion from the story rather than *being* the story.
That's not to say some of the weird moments aren't great, because they are. The heartbreaking car crash scene, the weird New Orleans assassins, and the squeaky voiced guy in the jazz club are terrific little vignettes and great 'David Lynch' moments. But it's too episodic, and the central story isn't that engaging.
There are also a huge number of highly self-conscious references to The Wizard of Oz, with Lula apparently seeing herself as Dorothy and her mother as the Wicked Witch. This may be from the novel, but whatever, it's kind of annoying. The film doesn't work as a direct analogy, thank goodness, but it's difficult to see what the point of the references is meant to be, thematically. It doesn't seem to share a message with the Wizard of Oz, nor to be commenting on it in any way I can figure out. It ends up just feeling trite, like it assumes that referencing a classic American film will somehow give it a bit of resonance as a comment on America. Or something.
Wild At Heart was one of Nicolas Cage's first starring roles, and he was still pretty cool at the time. Sailor is a parody of Elvis machismo, with his drawling speech, loping walk, and karate-based dancing. Laura Dern is astounding as Lula, an amazing, over-the-top sexy kitten who writhes and shivers and arches her back as if constantly aroused by life itself - ultimately, the male fantasy version of what a girlfriend should be. The problem is that both characters are so heavily stylised that they become really annoying after a while. Oh wow - you're such amazing free spirits that you've decided to stop the car to just have a little dance at the side of the road. Again.
Dern's real-life mother Diane Ladd plays Lula's vengeful momma Marietta, and also massively camps it up, which again gets a little tiresome after a while. The best performance in the film probably comes from Harry Dean Stanton as the detective who adores her but can't give her what she wants. Also very good is Willem Dafoe as Bobby Peru, the terrifying macho monster, a bit of a stock figure in Lynch - he's great, but the character is a weak third after Frank Booth in Blue Velvet and Killer Bob in Twin Peaks.
The rest of the cast features great little turns from various well-known faces. It feels like a kind of Lynch love in, featuring people from his earlier films (Dern, Jack Nance, Isabella Rossellini, Freddie Jones) and a large contingent of Twin Peaks actors (Nance again, Sheryl Lee, Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn and the excellent David Patrick Kelly). All are pretty good, but my favourite supporting actors in the movie are Calvin Lockhart (from The Beast Must Die) as a hitman and W Morgan Sheppard as Mr Reindeer, a Hugh Hefner-esque crimelord.
The film looks beautiful, with its rolling landscapes and frequent close-ups of fire. The music, by Lynch's usual composer Angelo Badalamenti, is pretty good, although it sounds too self-consciously Twin Peaks-y. Likewise, the use of old rock n roll songs seems to be in there more because it's what we expect of Lynch after Blue Velvet than because it necessarily helps this film. There's a lot of sex and violence in this, it more than earns its 18 certificate, but it lacks the sense of dread that Lynch's best work has.
That's kind of the problem throughout. It's not that this is a bad film - far from it, it's entertaining enough to be worth at least one viewing. It just feels like a pointless film, a film that tries too hard to give us what it thinks we want. Martin Scorsese made Casino in the mid-1990s, presumably in the grip of a mid-life crisis - it felt like he went out of his way to try to throw everything that you expected from a Martin Scorsese film in there, to make the *ultimate* Scorsese film. The result was one of his least satisfying efforts (to be polite). So it proves with Lynch and Wild At Heart. This doesn't feel like a story David Lynch needed to tell; he fails to properly make it a David Lynch film, but drowns the story in a lot of unconnected David Lynch stuff. Watch Badlands instead for this kind of plot done right.
There are no extras at all. The Blu-ray picture looks good, but then a film from 1990 has no real excuse not to. There's not a lot to say about it, really - contrast is good, colours vibrant, and skin tones look nice and natural. There's a lot of detail visible - count the scales on Cage's snakeskin jacket! - but it's not particularly revelatory. Definitely the best option for viewing it at the moment.
That's if you decide you're going to. If you come to it after Lynch's better films, you'll be disappointed. It makes Lynch - one of the most unusual directors - into a string of clichés. Good clichés they may be, but it's a shame to see him reduced to this.