Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jennifer Lynch's SURVEILLANCE (2008)

"You probably read the end of the book first."
"That's no way to live"

Directed by Jennifer Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Michael Ironsides, Cheri Oteri, French Stewart, Kent Harper, Ryan Simpkins and Pell James

Synopsis: FBI Agents Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) come to a small Midwestern town to interrogate the 3 surviving victims of a brutal shoot-out.

This is a movie that is substantially less than the sum of its part.

Admittedly, Jennifer Lynch's directing career has hardly been fruitful. The last film she did was Boxing Helena about 15 years ago, and critics were less than kind to it. She broke her back and raised a kid, which took her out of the game for most of that time. She has had to suffer a lot of comparisons to her dad, heaven knows.

But the concept is strong (a series of interrogations where everyone on both sides of the table is holding something back) and Lynch pulled in a fascinating mix of has-beens, character actors and nobodies.  And she manages to get strong performances from some of them, including a child actor who is actually surprisingly good.

But, oh, how Lynch squanders it all.

First of all, you might assume this concept offers at least a couple obvious but compelling ways of telling the narrative. Perhaps you go victim by victim, showing each person's distorted version of events in ways that call the other accounts into question. Or maybe you alternate between the accounts and the investigators' attempts to make sense of them.

Or maybe you just show exactly what happens to everyone with the exception of one or two pieces of information to hold back for a "shocking" twist? Because that's exactly what Jennifer Lynch does.

And there's little else to hold onto in the film. After a couple of evocative shots in the opening, there's little of visual interest. At one or two moment, she seems to realize the creepiness of the endless plains the Midwest holds, but not to worry, that only lasts for a moment before we're back to mediocre camerawork.

If this movie wasn't so disposable, there'd be so much to pick apart about the stupidity of its morality and conception of violence. But it doesn't even rise to some height of risible violence. It doesn't examine (or do) anything.

And to make it worse, somehow some of the actors (presumably under Lynch's direction) do manage to make the ciphers they're given compelling. Julia Ormond & Cheri Oteri are particularly noteworthy, and even Bill Pullman is decent.

I know it's easy to complain that Jennifer Lynch is just doing a sub par version of her dad's work. But this could have been a nasty, brutal piece of pulp exploitation, and she doesn't do that either. Whatever creative instincts she has, wherever she picked them up, she can't make them her own.
Grade: C-