David Lynch takes us on a road trip with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune, two lovers looking to run away from Fortune’s mother Marietta who’s hired a hitman to find and kill Sailor. Along the way, Sailor and Fortune meet a couple of surreal characters that could only exist in a David Lynch film, such as Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru. It’s sweet, it’s violent, and it’s occasionally funny, but how does it stack up against Cage’s filmography? Well, crank up some Powermad and bring your best Elvis impression because we’re cruising down the road that is Wild at Heart.
Cage and Lynch only worked together once? That’s a real shame because their personalities make them a perfect match. Roy Sailor is the bad boy with a heart of gold and he’ll do anything for the love of his life Lula even if it involves getting his hands dirty. Cage’s chemistry with Laura Dern is equally sweet as it is sexy and you actively root for the characters to make it through all their predicaments. Cage is delivering a solid performance here, but compared to his later films, he’s not as eccentric as you would expect or want. Wild at Heart has Cage and Dern as two lead performances, but this leans more towards Laura Dern than it does Nic Cage. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a big part of the film, but this is very much Lula’s story from beginning to end. Cage meshes well with the bizarre nature of Wild at Heart, but it’s thankfully not distracting enough to make it meme-worthy.
Most Cage Moment:
The opening sequence where Cage’s Roy Sailor kills a hitman who’s paid by Marietta to kill him is definitely the most violent and unhinged Cage gets in the film. It’s comically violent and over the top and Nicolas Cage gives it his all as he pummels the man’s brains out. The sequence starts out relatively mild with swinger and jazz music playing in the background, but as the hitman provokes Roy, you can tell there’s a real situation brewing and it’s painted all over Roy’s face. Once the hitman makes his move, Roy let’s loose like an untamed animal; metal music is blasting and blood is splattering all over the floor, as Roy beats the man to death with Lula and Marietta watching in absolute horror. The kicker is that once it’s over, the swinger music starts playing again and Roy lights up his cigarette as if nothing happened. This sequence shows that Cage can do crazy and violent.
Good Cage or Bad Cage?
It’s serviceable Cage, but not his best role by a long shot. What makes Nicolas Cage such a compelling onscreen presence is his willingness to get weird and hammy in ways his costars won’t, but since Wild at Heart is a romance film, director David Lynch needs Cage to tone it down in order for the romance between him and Laura Dern to feel genuine. Fortunately, Wild at Heart is already bizarre on its own terms and has an equal amount of bizarre and outlandish characters to help even things out. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru and Diane Ladd’s Marietta Fortune are incredible performances and they easily run home with the entire film. There are still a couple of gems to mine from Cage’s performance, such as his Elvis accent and his sick mosh kicks, but Cage lets his costars ham it up this time around. If we’re judging this based on how crazy Nic Cage gets, you could definitely find crazier, but Wild at Heart works because the chemistry between Cage and Dern is genuine. It’s not a wild performance, but it’s a sweet performance that feels so real in a film that skews toward the surreal.