Alex Lee (Anne Heche) works at an international bank, but is finding times tough as she cannot pay the bills or her mortgage, a state of affairs which has forced her to make money as a high-priced call girl. One of her clients is the money launderer Bruno Buckingham (Christopher Walken), who although he is already in a relationship, has developed a penchant for sex games with Alex, as tonight when they role play. But she is walking a dangerous path when she ties him up for bondage, though really so she can get the cash he owes her...
Wild Side did not have the best of journeys from script to screen: actually it was more from script to screen to editing room back to screen again, as there are two versions you can see, one the cut which was released straight to video in the United States in 1995, and the other the preferred cut of director Donald Cammell restored and released four years later. We have to assume it was his preferred version, anyway, as Cammell committed suicide after the film was taken out of his hands and butchered by the producers, not exactly a rare occurence in the movie world, but not so often with such drastic results.
Seeing as how it was his fourth film in over twenty-five years, after a career of trying and failing to get other projects off the ground, including one of the most intriguing-sounding never made with Marlon Brando, you can sort of understand why Cammell would have taken such extreme actions to opt out of life when it appeared as if he would never get his way in his art ever again, not at his age at any rate, but it was still an awful waste. We did have the restored film which made it to cinemas after the fact, leading it to be appraised as he intended, though it must be pointed out that while his talent was never in doubt, the general reaction to this was not entirely welcoming.
Most of the time it left viewers scratching their heads, such was its off kilter and awkward storytelling, which may have resolved itself by the end of the film so you had it right in your mind who had done what to whom and why, but the road to get there was a rocky one. Was it an erotic thriller? A wacky comedy? A serious drama about romantic obsession? Maybe all three? The manner in which it refused to slot into any obvious category may have been what scuppered Wild Side's chances originally, but of such stuff are cult movies made, and if the bizarre background, never mind the bizarre foreground, to the project didn't entice viewers the overtly sexual scenes may have done the job, though even those were tempered with an accumulation of skewed vision.
Alex finds herself at the mercy of three people, and it's up to her to negotiate them to get what she wants out of life. First is Bruno, as Walken raised the bar for his already eccentric performances: the late on scene with the condom, his gun brandishing and the threatened revenge through buggery was genuinely weird even by his standards, yet also very funny. Second is Tony (Steven Bauer), Bruno's right hand man, a boorish undercover cop who rapes Alex in her home and thinks he can wrap her around his finger because of his secret lawman status. Third is where her heart really lies, Virginia Chow (Joan Chen), businesswoman wife of Bruno's where for both women it's lust at first sight, leading to the steamy scenes which made this a favourite among some audiences. Add in a computer virus which will sabotage the bank and ensure Bruno makes a lot of money, and this was more straightforward than the curious performances and flashforwards initially hint at. Too intractable as its creator may have been, but not a waste of time. Music by Ryûichi Sakamoto.