donald cammell's wild side

1995 - Original/ 1999 - Director's Cut

Directed by: Donald Cammell
Written by: China Kong and Donald Cammell

By all reports the Director's Cut version of this film is infinitely superior to the version released by the studio.

I'll start this review by stating up front that I haven't seen the original. The version I saw was the Director's Cut, which is a fallacy really because this version was actually pieced together by the editor after director Donald Cammell's suicide.

Our heroine for Wild Side is Alex (Anne Heche), a high-powered banker by day and a high-priced hooker by night. Her extra-curricular activities are not by choice, she needs the money to pay off the beautiful house she lives in by the beach outside the city since her banking salary doesn't cover the extravagant mortgage she has taken out. Besides, over the years she's come to develop a taste for the "wild side", and likes it more than she is willing to admit.

Her services as a call girl are engaged by super-crook Bruno (the perpetually slimy Christopher Walken) who takes a liking to her and immediately sets his fall guy Tony (Stephen Bauer) off to check her out. He quickly discovers her double life, and offers her a part in a scam he's trying to pull off, where someone with her talents, as a hooker and a banker, can do him a lot of favours.

As part of the heist Alex meets Virginia (Joan Chen), Bruno's wife, who comes into her bank to set up a phony account from which to stage the scam. The two become immediately attracted and much steamy sex ensues, including one particularly hot scene in a bathroom which I think is possibly the sexiest piece of lesbian cinema I've ever seen.

However, Alex's relationship with Virginia takes a strange turn and the scam becomes dangerous thanks to the involvement of Tony who is actually an undercover cop with a serious infatuation for Alex. Needless to say the shit hits the fan pretty quickly and Alex becomes involved in a battle to extricate herself and Virginia from both the mobster and the law.

Anne Heche plays a pretty convincing role as a woman who suddenly discovers an overwhelming attraction for another woman (and that's not meant to be as petty as it sounds!). Her love for Virginia starts to overrule her reason, and throughout the film we're left wondering if the whole thing is going to blow up in her face, not the least because Virginia isn't really worth saving. I can't decide if the character was meant to be that way or not, but Joan Chen played Virginia as if the woman was constantly opiated. She seemed sluggish and out of it most of the time, and that seemed to make the violence surrounding her seem all the more surreal and brutal.

I had no trouble watching every gory scene in Bound, but found myself flinching a lot through this. Everything is seriously twisted. There is not a moral or a scruple to be found in these characters and the actors played faithfully to this fact. Tony the cop was perhaps the most difficult to stomach, though he gets everything he does repaid threefold by the utterly disgusting and paranoid Bruno.

As a piece of cinema this was taut and well acted, but the ugliness of the environs and the characters just disgusted me from the beginning and I was never able to get involved enough to care. Not even Alex won any sympathy from me and she was easily the nicest, least self-serving one of the lot. Despite the good moments and excellent chemistry between Chen and Heche, I left the cinema hoping to never run into this piece of scumbag-ridden celluloid ever again.

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Last updated: 9 August 2010