Val Kilmer, Carrie Fisher, Dylan McDermott, Kate Bosworth
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"Wonderland" is a film in which its sum is not equal to its parts. As I was watching the film, I found myself incredibly impressed by the performances in the film and the visual imagery being created onscreen. Yet, by the end of the film I found myself somewhat disappointed with the final product itself.
"Wonderland" takes place in 1981, after John Holmes (Johnny Wadd in the porn world) has become a legend in the porn industry...made over 1,000 porn films and had sex with an estimated 14,000 women...the film takes a raw, graphic look at the "Wonderland" murders...a quadruple killing on Wonderland Avenue. By this time, Holmes is basically a coked out junkie hanging out with his five-year, 20-year-old girlfriend. Holmes ends up strongly implicated in the killings, but never is evidence strong enough to bring him to trial. Basically, everyone involved in the scene is so "dirty" that nobody can be trusted and all evidence leaves a reasonable doubt.
Val Kilmer becomes John Holmes, and is just mesmerizing here. He so successfully creates a character that is, at once, creepy yet sympathetic that it is easy to see why Holmes could never be brought to trial. Kilmer's Holmes is incredibly intense but also has this air of hipness about him that is a joy to watch even in the uncomfortableness of all this chaos and violence. On a somewhat shallow note, Kilmer's casting raised a few eyebrows and chuckles as he is rather known in Hollywood for being "endowed."
Throughout the cast there are standout performances here including a nearly unrecognizable Dylan McDermott in the role of David Lind, who was a drug dealer among this circle who happened to not be at the apartment the night of the killings. This is McDermott unlike we've seen on screen, and it's just an amazing performance. This is a breakout performance for Kate Bosworth as Holmes' girlfriend, and a clear indicator that she's ready to move beyond the largely fluff films she's been doing prior to "Wonderland." She's simply amazing here...From her opening scene with Carrie Fisher (wonderful in a small role as a "holy roller"), Bosworth is a powerful onscreen display of attitude, intensity, vulnerability and loyalty.
One of my all-time favorites plays Eddie Nash, a kingpin dealer who is robbed by the group of dealers in question. Eric Bogosian has made a career out of playing characters like this, including on Broadway in his one-man shows. Oddly enough, his was the one performance that felt a bit restrained, lacking authenticity. It was a good performance, but not up to the energy and intensity of the rest of the cast.
Also giving solid performances here were Lisa Kudrow as Holmes' estranged wife Sharon, Christina Applegate showing off her dramatic chops and Janeane Garofalo in one of the best performances I've seen from her. Tim Blake Nelson and Josh Lucas also gave outstanding performances as ill-fated drug dealers.
Despite the incredible performances, this film went largely unnoticed among the awards. Perhaps it was the content or the lack of box office success, but it's a sad omission. Several of these performances deserve recognition.
Despite my being in awe of the performances, I found myself troubled, at times, by the Rashomon treatment of the film. Co-writer and director James Cox simply doesn't seem to be up to this type of filmmaking, and too often the film felt chaotic, muddled and disorganized in its presentation. While the visual imagery within the film was beautiful, too often it felt disjointed.
The soundtrack works well with the film, but is a bit of an overkill.
In many ways, "Wonderland" presents more questions than answers. Some of that is inevitable, as there are no defined answers to the "Wonderland" killings. Nobody, including Holmes, was ever convicted in the killings but the implication of his guilt hung over Holmes until his AIDS related death in 1987. While the film presents more than one possibility, it seemed to lean towards his guilt. It was as if everyone in the "know" knew that Holmes was responsible but refused to say it out loud.
"Wonderland" is sad, intense and beautifully acted...but, in the end, it left me a bit disillusioned, confused and dissatisfied.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic