Saturday 1 September 2007

Wonderland (2003)

In 1981 four people were killed at 8763 Wonderland Ave in Los Angeles, an incident known as the Wonderland Murders, Four on the Floor or the Laurel Canyon Murders. The drug related plot involved the first real porn star and still probably the most famous, John Holmes, who had dropped out of the business by that time and become something of a mess. Amazingly it took 22 years for such a celebrity story to be filmed, though some of it appeared in Boogie Nights.

Wonderland offers a few versions of the real story behind the killings, as it was never fully determined what happened and who did what. There have been various court cases, none of which had been conclusive, and Holmes himself had been charged and acquitted for the murders. The first version is told by David Lind, the boyfriend of one of the victims, who spills all to the cops unofficially and off the record. It was his story that brought Holmes into the investigation along with the man most likely to be behind it all, Eddie Nash, drug dealer and owner of a whole string of nightclubs. The second is told by Holmes himself, aiming for the witness protection scheme. Backup material comes from other people too, and what seems inconsistent and variable as the film progresses becomes something that feels right. From what I've read it comes about as close to the truth as anyone is likely to get.

The filmmaking is not straightforward, going well beyond the out of sync chronological approach. There's some interesting film manipulation, overlaying moving windows of different people at the same time over a map, with other salient devices interspersed between them for instance, but it's out of place enough to seem like nothing more than a posh fade from one scene to another. There's also way too much soundtrack, especially early on, suggesting that the writers, including the director James Cox, didn't know how to put the story together properly. That seems like a really strange thing to say given that other sections are tightly plotted and cleverly written, but that inconsistency is there nonetheless.

There's a lot more film gimmickry going on too, especially with montages everywhere to fill in back stories and give us glimpses into who characters are. It does seem very television though, and again, it's not altogether consistent. It's as if Guy Ritchie had been hired by a TV executive to do the sort of cool stuff he did in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, only to screw around with the results What I really liked though was the colour balance of a good deal of the film, especially early on. Even though it was made in 2003, it had an old feel yellow/green look to it. Unfortunately that didn't stay consistent either.

All this sounds like major criticism but it's very possible that a lot of it is just an inevitable byproduct of the way the film is put together. Not knowing the facts and being ballsy enough to present a conglomeration of perspectives and gradually focus them into something realistic is an admirable way for James Cox to do things, but it's an approach that would work better on repeat viewings, just so long as it's done well enough.

The film, and especially the way in which it's presented, is all about the story, but there are a lot of names here. Val Kilmer is fine as Holmes, Dylan McDermott is excellent as David Lind and Eric Bogosian is powerful as Eddie Nassh. Lisa Kudrow of all people is surprisingly good as Sharon, Holmes's first wife, still married but long separated by this point in time. She gives a very honest portrayal, certainly showing her age far better and more honestly than in anything else I've seen her in. There are other names here too, from Carrie Fisher to Janeane Garofalo to people I didn't even recognise like Christina Applegate and Tim Blake Nelson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that James Cox did a very good job of directing the film. Why Does everyone have to be so critical about the way it was written? Maybe people can not find another way to occupy themselves better than to be critical of other people..I think those people who who critical of how a film is written are just jealous...So there!!!!