The Popcorn Reel
Friday, July 3, 2009


Bill Pullman as Sam Hallaway and Julia Ormond as Elizabeth Anderson in Jennifer Lynch's new film "Surveillance", which opened today in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area of Northern California.  (Photo: Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing)
A Lynchian Highway To Hell, With A Bizarre Bonnie And Some Crazy Clydes
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Friday, July 3, 2009

Jennifer Lynch directs "Surveillance", a mystery drama that reveals the director is no slouch at mining the depths of human depravity and the twists in the psyche.  With this new film, which opened today in San Francisco and elsewhere in the U.S. (continuing in New York and Los Angeles) Ms. Lynch shows that she's learned plenty from her father David when it comes to the theater of atmosphere.  Unfortunately, "Surveillance" runs out of gas before the hour mark, repetitively indulging in style display for style's sake.  The screenplay, written by Miss Lynch and Kent Harper (who also appears in the film), feels as if it is being read by the actors, not acted.  Whether this is by design or due to lack of rehearsal, it detracts from rather than enhances the film.  "Surveillance" has a few loose ends which dangle red herring-like into a vanishing point, with some predictable situations in anything but a predictable landscape.

The film tracks two Federal agents' (Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) investigation of a couple of trigger-happy cops in a remote part of Canada's Saskatchewan Province where absolutely no one appears to live.  The highway that splits through this barren wilderness contains all the activity at the heart of "Surveillance": unsuspecting passengers whose car travels are rudely interrupted by the local law enforcement: a drug-addled couple, a family in turmoil, and a couple having the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The inquiries by Hallaway (Mr. Pullman) and Anderson (Miss Ormond) reveal a tangled web of lies: everybody has their "story" to tell, and the camera betrays them all.  While Mr. Pullman has been ensconced before by Lynchian highways ("Lost Highway"), he isn't especially memorable here, neither is Miss Ormond.  The argument may go that acting isn't the juice of "Surveillance" and that the story is -- but the story isn't convincing either.  "Surveillance" feels like a gimmick or stylized exercise in the ability to shock, with some strong bloody violence and graphic and titillating material.  While watching "Surveillance" you feel that Miss Lynch, who directed the controversial "Boxing Helena" in the 1990s, is telling the audience: "look what I can do with the camera."  That Miss Lynch is talented isn't a revelation; it's that "Surveillance", with its who's-watching-whom Pandora's Box undulations, sabotages itself because of its weak script.

There are however, two nice touches amidst the film's sea of dysfunction and anti-social behavior: the performance of character actor Caroline Aaron, who provides levity, warmth and wisdom as Janet, the matriarch of the local police department, and the end credits song that is sung or wailed in distressing fashion by David Lynch.  It is an appropriate conclusion to an otherwise unremarkable thriller, designed to push the buttons of the average moviegoer unaccustomed to the freakish hell that the family Lynch is more than adept at conjuring.

With: Pell James, Ryan Simpkins, Cheri Oteri, Michael Ironside, French Stewart, Gill Gayle, Hugh Dillon, Charlie Newmark and Mac Miller.

"Surveillance" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and a scene of aberrant sexuality.  The film's duration is one hour and 37 minutes.

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