Movie Review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Pell James, Ryan Simpkins, Cheri Oteri
Director: Jennifer Lynch
It must have been a strange experience growing up in the Lynch household. Having the man behind BLUE VELVET, TWIN PEAKS and other twisted takes on American life as your father must affect your outlook on life and with BOXING HELENA as your first film, Jennifer Lynch proved she was not interested in telling simple stories. It has taken her a long time to make another film after the critical mauling that film took but SURVEILLANCE may be a good chance for some people to reassess her skill as a writer and director.
SURVEILLANCE tells the story of the aftermath of an incident on a quiet highway and the three surviving witness as they are questioned separately and tell their versions of the incident. FBI Agents, Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond try to elicit the truth as the cop, the drug addict and an 8 year-old girl retell the story.
What this film really is is a puzzle. As you listen to the interviews it becomes apparent that everyone’s truth is different including the FBI agents. What seems like a simple investigation into an unknown incident, one that obviously resulted in multiple deaths, soon becomes complicated by the survivors’ history and perception of the events.
It is obvious from the beginning that this is not an easy film in any respect. It challenges you with its shifting moods. Sometimes it is horrific but often it is very funny. It is extremely violent in places but it rarely relies on cheap shocks. There are many plot shifts and the audience is often wrong-footed. I did see the big twist coming but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment and there were enough shocks and mysteries to keep my interest from waning.
The film uses a similar palate to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN for its desert location and small town motels and police stations but it is a lot more static than this film, although just as abrasive in its depiction of violence.
Bill Pullman is a solid, straight man for much of the film and observes rather than comments. Julia Ormond has a quiet authority. Her detached quality works well in a difficult part but she obviously relishes her role later in the film when she uses the fragility she usually displays and turns it on its head.
David Lynch describes the end of film as evil. Jennifer prefers to think of it as dark and it is here that their two styles of storytelling differ. In her father’s film there is usually a moral core. Good is always there and although it may not always triumph, it is always present. Here there is very little good and evil definitely wins this particular battle.
But perhaps the real winner is Jennifer Lynch who has proved she is an interesting filmmaker in her own right and has crafted a film that although I wouldn’t say I liked – I felt a little dirty by the end of it – I would definitely say I admired greatly.