Reviewing a movie like David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” is tricky business. I’m going to come right out and tell you, if you don’t enjoy the oddities that are prevalent in most Lynch films, you’re going to hate this film. Sometimes I try and argue a point as to why a film is important and should be seen but it’s not fair to do that here. “Inland Empire” is a three hour David Lynch movie shot on digital video and it’s simply not for everyone. I will say that it thrills me to see a big league director finally get that fact that you really don’t need all the expensive accoutrements that usually come with making a movie. You don’t need a gazillion union guys, a multitude of makeup people and enough lights to spark a small town. You just need a vision and some great actors and away you go. And away Lynch went with “Inland Empire.”
From what I gathered, the film is about a successful Hollywood actress named Nikki Grace (Dern) who is cast in a film to be directed by Kingsley Stewart (Irons) and starring cad about town Devon Birk (Theroux). When the actors and the director convene to start the read-throughs, Stewart and his producer Freddie Howard (Stanton in classic Stanton mode) tell the actors that they haven’t been totally honest with them about the script. It appears the script they plan to shoot is known to be cursed as there was a previous production that was halted when the actors were killed.
From there it gets a little dicey for the characters onscreen as well as us in the viewers seat. The movie being filmed blends into real life but there’s also some odd side stories involving prostitutes and a family of bunny headed suburbanites (no, I’m not kidding) who kind of…stand around while a laugh track cackles in the background. As the film starts to devolve or evolve into a dreamlike state, one thing remains consistent: Laura Dern turns in one of the best acting jobs you’re ever going to see. For lack of a better cliché, Dern does a tour-de-force of emotion from egotistical Hollywood-ite to down on her luck hooker, Dern sells every role she plays in “Inland Empire,” even if no one knows exactly what role she’s playing at the time. I know it sounds confusing, but if you see the film you’ll know what I’m talking about.
As I mentioned several times, I really have no clue what “Inland Empire” is about on the whole. It’s definitely a take-off from the “Mullholland Drive” dark side of L.A. story but there’s just so much here that is baffling,creepy and beautiful. The movie does whatever the hell it wants to, be it hookers breaking into song or a party with porn stars and a lumberjack all dancing to Nina Simone. But that’s exactly what I love about “Inland Empire.” It’s one directors vision brought to life without studio politics or box office threats gumming up the works.
“Inland Empire” was shot over three years by Lynch in L.A. and Poland using a PD-150 DV camera (which is a camera anyone can easily obtain for less than $2000.00) and edited himself on Final Cut Pro. While I did enjoy the ride I took with the film, after the lights came up I was just thrilled Lynch was allowed to create such a journey for us to go on. Imagine what the cinema world would be like if more great directors threw caution to the wind and followed their artistic vision. It’s a world I’d like to see and I hope Lynch continues to pave the way.