Perhaps the ultimate ‘mind fuck’, this 1990 genre-hopper from director Adrian Lyne (“Flashdance”, “Fatal Attraction”) and writer Bruce Joel Rubin (Screenwriter of “Ghost”, writer-director of the underrated “My Life”) is highly unusual, and won’t be for everyone. It’s creepy, atmospheric, weird (the opener is terrific), and perhaps supernatural, without being what I’d term a horror film. It’s certainly far from perfect (the role played by Patricia Kalember is woefully underwritten for a start), and if released now, the ending probably wouldn’t be as much of surprise as it was for many in 1990.
I’d suggest the film was like if David Cronenberg had directed an adaptation of “Slaughterhouse Five”, except it’s a bit warmer than a Cronenberg film (though at the same time, it’s a completely separate entity of its own, very different to anything before or since). Tim Robbins is the key. He’s perfect in a film not so far removed from “Mystic River” on a certain level. In both films, at least on the surface, he’s a guy who went through some trauma that has left him disoriented and a bit fucked up. The supporting cast is really interesting in that everyone is slightly unsettling; Pruitt Taylor Vince and his darting eyes are never reassuring (I reckon if he ever claimed to have been anally probed by aliens, I’d totally believe him. He always looks wigged out), whilst Danny Aiello doesn’t seem like he’d have a light enough touch to be a chiropractor, if you ask me. I like Aiello as an actor, where the hell is he these days? He has his bombastic moments here, but he also shows great tenderness and sensitivity here. It’s a role that could’ve gotten seriously silly in the wrong hands, but Aiello makes it work. Jason Alexander has one of his best non-“Seinfeld” roles here too, though only appearing briefly. Director Lyne, meanwhile, seems especially enamoured with Elizabeth Pena, as in one scene he has her get dressed and undressed about five times. In one scene, her first scene in fact. Her tits aren’t to my personal taste (too small), but I admire a director with his priorities in check. She’s perfectly fine in the role, but I don’t find her attractive at all.
It’s extremely hard to continue this review without spoilers, because the big twist is the film’s chief point of interest and the merit of the film as a whole actually hinges largely on the ending, so read the rest later if you’re a newbie, ‘coz it’s a ****SPOILER WARNING, Y’ALL**** Actually, if you’ve never seen “The Usual Suspects” and/or “The Life Before Her Eyes”, you might want to turn back, though I’ll try not to be explicit in spoiling those endings. I’m really surprised critic Roger Ebert liked this film and hated “The Usual Suspects”, because they both have a fairly similar ending, as does the more recent “The Life Before Her Eyes”. Some say the ending negates the entire film, and I can’t argue as strongly against that as in “The Usual Suspects”, but I never felt cheated here or “The Usual Suspects” (The answer with the latter film is technically right there for you to see almost immediately, so it isn’t a cheat). I’ll try to be as vague as possible, but I find the role of imagination involved in both this film and “The Usual Suspects” to be far more plausible than “The Life Before Her Eyes”. Perhaps it’s because in “The Usual Suspects” the motive behind the deception seemed plausible to me. The difference between this film and “The Life Before Her Eyes”, however, is the age of the protagonist. I can’t say much more than that, it’s just more plausible when it involves an adult like Robbins, because it’s not as much of a reach. Basically, I’m saying that this film manages to combine its two different layers (to use a vague term) together seamlessly, thus when the end comes along, it feels far more organic. I could never reconcile certain things with “The Life Before Her Eyes” due to far too many unanswered questions.
This is an interesting, twisty puzzle of a film, but thanks chiefly to Tim Robbins’ empathetic work, it also has an emotional resonance too. It’s not a perfect film (and I’m not a great fan of ‘head trip’ films), but it’s a consistently interesting one (no matter how many times you’ve seen it), even if it depends largely on its twist ending to make it really memorable.