Special Agent Cooper’s review published on Letterboxd:
I never had much doubt that I would enjoy this based on what I knew heading in, even if my actual expectations were definitely not exactly this. I love road films. I love David Lynch's creative impulses. I love the general idea of cinematic "on the run" pursuit and the classic romantic ideal. This cast is just unreal. Cage and Dern are always worth watching, and it is just loaded with Twin Peaks people plus Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover and various Lynch favorites. Laura Dern and Diane Ladd are playing a meta daughter-mother pairing, and Lynch has given Cage full license to Cage-out and fly his snakeskin covered freak flag amidst a backdrop of fiery imagery and Wizard of Oz allusions. For being a big fan of Twin Peaks and as someone who counts Mulholland Drive firmly as a top 5 film, I'm actually still filling in some viewing gaps with a handful of Lynch films. I've been excited about seeing this one for a minute or two.
Two lovers on the run, colorful characters abound, the aesthetics and sounds of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch's fascination with mysterious cowboy figures and powerful men behind the scenes, Dario Argento-like splashes of 80's metal accentuating wild moments of heightened emotion. That intro! This is very much my comfort zone: a movie with a core that seems to be romantically idealist in a classic way and yet executed without any sort of regard for the established tropes and rules of cinema, traditional pacing or straight logic. The film demonstrates, but simulatenously subverts, the classic romantic idea of the great road escape for Sailor and Luna (awesome names btw... wait a minute... Sailor Moon?). They are driving away from responsibility, threat of capture, and anyone who would stand in the way of their simple coexistence. David's special genre spin here is how sequences seem to continually traverse the spectrum from real to imaginary and play out as fantasy or some sort of skewed version of reality without feeding the viewer these cues explicitly. I personally feel as if Lynch wants to put us right in the headspace of Sailor's (Cage) delusional rebel without a cause, anti-hero persona and see exactly his perception of the extreme resistance to their relationship presented by Luna's mother, but manifested into a twisted "cinema-specific reality" and to let it battle back and forth with a supposed true reality. That's not a spoiler, btw, and I may not even be correct about that. It's just how I view the film's nature and something that I think is worth mentioning about this film's specific creative value. This all begs the question of course, does there actually need to be a true reality in a film? We are at the storyteller's mercy, any way you look at it. We don't have to accept the notion of a film having a true reality or needing the ability to be given a real-life recreation. If animated films can skirt this idea, so can live-action films. If what we are seeing is not always what it seems, then Lynch creatively eschews the idea of the "Hollywood dream sequence" that utilizes visual filters or precise beginning or ending marks. There's a fluidity and purposeful uncertainty to the approach taken that keeps you on your toes. I've seen some mention that this feels conventional for Lynch. I don't really agree with that assessment. The synopsis does lead to that sort of expectation, but this road movie is definitely one that takes the leisurely scenic route through Weirdoville.
It's definitely a very interesting movie that I respect big time, with lots of fun or just plain interesting moments and great performers. Moments of this film will forever be burned into my brain. This film will NOT be for everyone. The pacing does not feel in line with what most would expect from a road pursuit film. If you are looking for a movie to hit plot point by plot point in stride, you won't be happy with this. Certain personality types may even find this tedious and meandering. I would say the chief "problem" of this film from a more traditional perspective is that the antagonist characters and their looming threats are quite spread out and introduced with a wide and broad focus, so there isn't always that steady undercurrent of danger and pursuit that one has been trained to look for in an "on the run" type of film. I mean, Willem Dafoe really brings the antagonist dynamic up a notch when he enters the film, but I wish they didn't take so long to introduce him. I think you have to be a patient "in the moment" type of viewer that is looking to wander a bit through the weird unknown to enjoy this type of movie. I am that type of person.
So, is this better than the sum of its best parts, as a film? Probably not quite, but I'm still impressed. I can't commit to a perfect score, because although I really respect the overall vibe, I still think there are just too many lulls between all the strong bits in which the movie just spins its wheels a little. This definitely could have been just as creative and effective at about 20 minutes shorter. For instance, we definitely get too many returns to softcore-ish intimacy scenes between the main couple that don't add much to the plot or character development, two passionate lovers already quite firmly established. I think the film also could have brought in more of the interesting villain type characters more quickly after the exciting intro piece, to capitalize on momentum. Many conventional film fans might watch this and think it needs a rewrite and a more streamlined trimming of its ideas. It does really feel a bit scattershot and overambitious, at times, so I get that. I truly think this was Lynch's intended outcome as a storytelling style, though. Don't forget: this film is clearly not designed to mirror an objective reality. I don't have much else to really call out to the negative, though. David delivered on the exact type of offbeat and oneiric imagery that I look for with films and added a metal-infused splash of fun and recklessness via Cage's performance. Even though I had minor frustrations, I have a ton to chew on here and definite reason to revisit this more in the future with a refined expectation of what I'll be seeing. Hail Lynch!
BTW... Nic Cage at the Powermad thrash metal show, getting into fights, doing spin kicks, dancing, moshing, and generally just taking the spotlight is so fun. This very over-the-top early moment is fun, but also should be a clear signal to the intellgent viewer that this film does not mean to portray a straightforward sense of cinematic reality. Don't for one minute think that Cage (and Dern!) confine their moshing to metal shows, either. This cathartic release appears to be common routine for these fiery hearts. It's almost enough for me to totally forgive his character's unfortunate Elvis fandom, just like I had to also acknowledge and reluctantly overlook with Woody's fun character in Zombieland. Sorry Elvis fans, but... he's a big no for me, pure cringe factor to my palette. At the end of the day, Cage's "Sailor" is still as cool as the other side of the pillow, even if I think we are probably just seeing his self-perception play out through this film. He's a man who wears a snakeskin jacket and it's a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. I just can't argue with that.