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Donald Cammell's Wild Side Review

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Alex is a banker by day and hooker by night. When she hooks up with money launderer Bruno, however, she lands in deep trouble - both with his undercover FBI agent chauffeur Tony, and his beautiful wife Virginia.

★★★★

When their movies are recut by philistine studio execs, most directors complain to the press and slap on an 'Alan Smithee' credit. When Nu-Image edited Wild Side into "an ordinary thriller", Donald Cammell shot himself. Four years after his suicide, the film - originally passed off as a cable TV time-waster - resurfaces more closely resembling the one Cammell intended to make.

The set-up owes something to Crimes Of Passion (1984), while the main twist has overtones of Bound (1996). Alex Lee (Heche), a banker moonlighting as a high-priced call girl, finds herself caught between a charismatic criminal and a thuggish detective. Alex's latest client is Beatle-haired money-launderer Bruno (Walken), who orders his chauffeur Tony (Bauer) to have sex with her to prove she isn't an FBI agent. Tony semi-rapes Alex, then reveals that he's the undercover Fed and blackmails her into helping him get the goods on his boss.

The film was shot before Heche's well-publicised 'coming out', which adds layers of irony to many of her lines ("Do I look like I have 'tendencies' to you?"). There's a hilarious rant from Walken as he decides to pay back Bauer for forcing himself on Heche by sodomising him, while Heche and Chen have a great sex scene, but also deliver delicate, ambiguous, funny and touching performances.

It's hard not to think of the lovers as analogues to Cammell and partner/co-screenwriter Kong, though the director must have been torn between Walken and Heche as identification figures.

A lot of flashing back-and-forward reminds you of Performance (1970), but the real strangeness of the film is in the off-centre dialogue ("You ever see grey squares on a chessboard?") and the near-farcical plotting that throws the characters together in almost every imaginable combination.

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