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USA | 2008
Directed by: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Written by: Jennifer Lynch & Kent Harper
Bill Pullman
Julia Ormond
Pell James
Ryan Simpkins
Color / 97 Minutes / Rated R

Surveillance poster


(Click to enlarge images)
On the run.
The feds arrive.
Up against a wall.
Screwing around on the job.
Solace in artwork.
Studying the evidence.
In the middle of nowhere.
Abuse of power.
A perceptive little girl.
Collateral splatter.
An officer and a dead man.

  By KamuiX

In a small rural town, things aren’t as quiet as they used to be. A man has recently been brutally murdered and his wife is missing. While two local cops are out on the beat looking for the woman, something else awful happens that leaves one of them dead, a little girl without a family, and a drug addicted young woman caught up in the middle. But what exactly happened? That’s what FBI agents Elizabeth Anderson and Sam Hallaway have been brought in to find out. Amidst the usual confrontations they encounter with local law when they’re called in, the two set up cameras and conduct interviews with the three survivors of the incident to find out the true series of events. Lies fly and weeding out the truth becomes increasingly difficult, but the agents feel confident they can get to the bottom of the whole mess, whatever the cost.

Surveillance takes the basis premise of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, but molds enough to its own liking to make it feel like more than just an uninspired film without its own ideas. Instead of seeing every take on the events played out as the witnesses are interrogated, we actually get to see what actually happened as the lies are told. This prevents the film from ever becoming redundant due to being forced to watch the same thing over and over again with just minor changes, and it also lends itself well to some funny moments, such as when Bobbi (the drug addict) relays that her and her friend were going on a job interview at the start of the day in question as the viewer gets to see they were actually at a flophouse picking up drugs.

While Surveillance works just fine as a thriller, and maybe even as a mystery to an extent as you will be interested in seeing what exactly happened on the day that brought all of these people together, the bigger mystery fails miserably. Yes, there’s a twist in Surveillance, but no, it’s not a good one. I guess it does work overall, but unless you have an IQ lower than 50, you’ll see it coming within the first 10 minutes of the film. Jennifer Chambers Lynch (yes, she's David's daughter) may be a pretty promising director when it comes to action and tension, but she doesn’t hide the twist well enough to make it surprising when it happens. She dangles the carrot for too long, and unless you’re blind you’ll be biting. Fortunately some rather perverse stuff happens in the final 20 minutes of the film that somewhat redeems the lukewarm twist, but I’m sure there will be some that will be turned off by it all.

I’d consider myself a fairly big fan of Bill Pullman, who has great screen presence and has turned in some wonderful performances over the years, but I can’t quite wrap my head around his work in Surveillance. I can't figure out whether he channeled Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper and turned that eccentricity to eleven or he’s simply gone insane; I’ll let you be the judge. Everyone else in the film does just fine, some to be expected (Julia Ormond, Michael Ironside) and some surprising (French Stewart, Cheri Oteri), but the real standout is Kent Harper, who also wrote the film along with Lynch. Looking at his resume, this appears to be his first meaty role, and he makes the most of it. He completely nails the unstable, smarmy Officer Bennett and he’s really a joy to watch throughout. Hopefully his performance here garners him some success in the future.

Surveillance is far from perfect, but it proves to be an interesting curiosity for David Lynch fans (the song he contributes that plays over the end credits is hilarious!), and it’s nice to see the growth that Jennifer Chambers Lynch has made since the entertaining in all the wrong ways Boxing Helena. King David’s shadow is a huge one to live under, and while Jennifer may not have completely escaped it yet, Surveillance is a nice first step into carving out her own little niche in the filmmaking world.

Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing presents Surveillance on Blu-Ray in a nice little package. The film is presented in a nice-looking 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Outdoor scenes look pretty amazing, with a ton of depth and wonderful naturalistic colors. There’s a good amount of grain on display, but it all looks natural to my eyes and gives the picture a great film-like look. The included DTS-HD Master Audio track is a good one. Action-heavy scenes are robust, gunshots sound as if they’re going off in the room with you, and there’s some quality ambiance during the quieter scenes. The dialogue is crisp and clear too and never gets lost.

The first extra up to bat is a commentary with director Lynch and actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark. One thing I’ve learned from this: Jennifer is her father’s daughter. While we unfortunately have never gotten a commentary from the big man, I have seen numerous interviews with him considering he’s my favorite living director, and her cadence, odd story interjections, and flat-out enthusiasm for film mirrors her dad. The track isn’t particularly good per-se, but it is informative if you can keep up with Lynch. A 15-minute making of is up next, which features more interviews from the cast and crew and joking around than hearing anything much about the making of the film itself. “HDNet: A Look at Surveillance” is basically nothing more than an advertisement for the flick, hyping it up for potential viewers. Rounding out the extras are 12 minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Lynch), one of which is an alternate ending, and it’s apparent why they didn’t use it. It’s just bad. All of the extras are unfortunately available in 480p only.

*The clickable screenshots on the left are not from the Blu-Ray and are not indicative of its quality.

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