Quite possibly, of all of David Lynch’s films, Wild At Heart was the one I knew least about before sliding it into the Blu-Ray player.
As the screen is enveloped with flame and a distinctive piece of Angelo Badalamenti penned music emerges from the speakers though, it soon becomes obvious this came very much from the same era as Twin Peaks and, as it goes on, it feels both in tone and subject rather like a bridge between the TV series and previous film Blue Velvet.
In that regard it drops us into what feels like the real world but twisted through a Lynchian prism, with his distinctive art over film approach clearly at the fore, but, possibly more than ever (with the exception of Dune), a format that matches a standard film genre – in this case a crime road movie, with our heroes here feeling a little like a more innocent precursor to Natural Born Killers’ Mickey and Malory Knox (though by any other comparison they really aren’t innocent).
The linear story then follows this pair, Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), after Sailor is released form prison for murder and they head to New Orleans then on to rural Texas in search of I’m not sure what, or indeed why.
Of course things aren’t quite that straightforward and the episodic nature emphasises this as we cut back and forth from Sailor and Lula to her mother (Dianne Ladd), a private investigator (Harry Dean Stanton, who else in a Lynch movie) and crime boss Marcellus Santos (J.E. Freeman) trying track them down with various motivations and with Ladd showing an impressive turn of madness bordering on the surreal.
And then we meet Bobby Peru played by Willem Defoe who almost steals the film from Cage and Dern with his excellently idiosyncratic performance that just ups the steadily growing intensity of the whole the thing to breaking point.
While the story is an enjoyable yarn and the performances are great, particularly from Cage and Dern who are mesmerising in different ways, with Dern almost entirely subverting her performance from Blue Velvet in impressive fashion and Cage finding possibly the most suitable outlet for his more eccentric tendencies, the real star of the show for me is the way Lynch combines images, action and music in a manner seemingly designed to set the viewers nerves on edge time and again.
The soundtrack switches from 1940s standards to classic rock ‘n’ roll to then rather current thrash metal and it jumps from one to the other in fantastic, sudden and at points brutal fashion, with the films opening scene establishing this as Cage’s attitude shifts as the music does in particularly surprising and shocking ways, and it just builds from there.
Along with this we get a tantalising hint of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game that manages to suit the film to a tee and led to a great video directed by Lynch that unfortunately wasn’t the one that accompanied the song’s single release.
Overall Wild At Heart may not be Lynch’s best but what it does is show the director expanding on past obsessions and introducing new ones while possibly setting the stage for the rest of his career as a consistently idiosyncratic and unpredictable force in filmmaking that would never pander to mainstream norms while subverting familiar filmic traits by dabbling with genre in impressive ways.
And because its a great video for a great song here’s the best version of Lynch’s video for Wicked Game I could find: