|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Laura Dern as Nikki Grace
playing "Sue" and Justin Theroux as
Devon Reed playing "Billy" in
Directed by David Lynch, France / USA
Photo Credit: Canal Plus
A film by David Lynch is exasperating, challenging, and difficult. The
universe he creates in his work does not follow a direct pathway from A to Z.
Instead, it meanders and detours through dreamscapes, nightmares, and
unfamiliar worlds. In many of his recent works, characters are fluid and
his most recent, INLAND EMPIRE, is no different. Shot on digital video, it
is problematic and, at close to three hours, overlong. But there are flashes
of brilliance and just when the viewer becomes frustrated and ready to throw
in the towel, Lynch makes a hairpin turn that rights the course and once again
interest waxes. Yet, he is not content to take the easy road.
Lynch has more or less stated that the film did not have a completed
script when it began shooting and there is a kind of seat-of-your-pants feel
to it. The action takes a stream of conscious approach and veers from tedium
to sparks of brilliance. The unifying presence in the film is that of lead actress
Laura Dern who offers an amazing set of performances as the various characters
she embodies over the course of the movie. What story I could glean revolves
around actress Nikki Grace (Dern) who has married a wealthy and somewhat
mysterious Polish man (Peter J. Lucas). She has received an offer to star in
a film that turns out to be a remake of a film never completed. The original was
based on a Polish fairy tale and during filming the lead actors were killed.
We get sequences of the film-within-the-film as directed by Kingsley (Jeremy
Irons). Eventually, Nikki and Sue, the character she is portraying in the movie,
merge and INLAND EMPIRE then spins its intriguing yarns. There are sequences
in Polish (including a brief appearance by Leon Niemczyk, the lead in Polanski's
KNIFE IN THE WATER), a recurring image of three rabbits who star in a sitcom
(shorts that first appeared on Lynch's fee-based website), and cameos by
actors like Mary Steenburgen, William H. Macy, Laura Harring, Nastassja Kinski,
Diane Ladd (sending up Hollywood gossip queens), Grace Zabriskie (as an
oddball Polish neighbor in a just this side of an over-the-top performance),
and Harry Dean Stanton (as Irons' right-hand man).
But make no mistake, this is Dern's showcase. The germ of the film
began with a 14-page, single-spaced monologue that plays a significant role
in the second and third acts of this film. Throughout the movie, she delivers
a spectacular performance.
As it stands now, the film will not have an afterlife in theaters unless
a distributor picks it up. The film could do with some judicious pruning without
sacrificing the nuances of the story. INLAND EMPIRE will probably appeal only
to those hardcore fans of David Lynch. His detractors will only see excess and
waste. Myself, I fall somewhere in the middle: I can appreciate Lynch's intentions,
but I can also see that he didn't quite achieve them.
Running time: 179 mins.