Wild at Heart is a Nicolas Cage / Laura Dern movie of 1990. Nicolas Cage was always a good actor of weird characters, so I caught this when flipping through the channels and I stopped to see a few minutes of it. Mistake. I watched the whole thing, and if you skip forward to the end of this review and see my rating of one star, you may ask me why I bothered?
Why did I bother watching a twenty-year-old so-so movie all the way through?
Because it shocked me into it.
In the opening scene, a thug pulls a knife on Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage), a young Elvis-like misfit. Sailer goes into rage, disarms the thug, and beats him to a pulp, literally, by smashing his head against the floor so hard and repeatedly until, I surmise, his skull cracks, and blood literally oozes out of the hapless attacker. Then sailer gets up, leans against the railing of the stairs, and still out of breath, lights a cigarette.
The violence is graphic, overkill for the situation, powerful and very shocking. I didn’t move on after the first few minutes and I stayed with the movie.
The story is a simple one. Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern), two young people come from battered childhoods of rape, abuse and neglect somehow find each other and fall deeply in love. Lula’s mother Mariette (Diane Ladd) does not approve of the liaison and contracts a hit man to kill Sailor, hence the opening scene. Sailor and Lula elope on a road trip in a 1960 vintage convertible like in Selma and Louise. We follow along.
The movie’s story is weak, and it has to move us along with lots of shock. This is the movie where you can see Laura Dern topless, not once, but a lot. Sex scenes between Sailor and Lula abound, mostly heavy, brute couplings, generally silhouetted in pink, green or blue pastel light. I am not sure what the colors were doing for it. Women are degraded throughout the movie. In a Texas shit-town motel somebody asks about the bright lights in one of the rooms. We find out somebody is shooting a porn movie. Eventually, three naked and extremely obese actresses are dancing outside by the pool area for the benefit of the alcohol-lubed thugs assembled there. Why, I can’t figure out. There is a lot of evil brutality in this movie, and one of the evil doers is Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). Bobby is a loser and small-town bully with terribly bad teeth. The acting of Willem Dafoe, who is usually a very good bad guy, is superb here and we truly hate the character he portrays. When he blows his own head off with a shotgun (spoiler, spoiler) at the end, and the head literally flies through the air and lands on the ground with a slither and squish, like a huge gob of phlegm, we don’t mind. By then we are so revved up for the violence and so numb to the shock, anything goes.
This is not much of a story. The shock keeps you watching. And Laura Dern naked helps.