Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 2000. Background Productions, Beat LLC, Jade Films, Martien Holdings A.V.V., Millenium Pictures, Pendragon Film, Pfilmco, Walking Pictures. Screenplay by Gary Walkow. Cinematography by Ciro Cabello. Produced by Andrew Pfeffer, Alain Silver, Donald Zuckerman. Music by Ernest Troost. Production Design by Rando Schmook. Costume Design by David Chierichetti, Patricia Delgado. Film Editing by Peter B. Ellis, Steve Vance.
The stormy relationship between author William S. Burroughs and his second wife Joan Vollmer, which ended when he killed her under mysterious circumstances, is examined in this absorbing but uneven film. Burroughs (a drily effective imitation by Kiefer Sutherland) and Vollmer (a miscast Courtney Love) hole up in Mexico avoiding his heroin conviction in the States, haunted by the memory of their friend Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus) murdering their friend Dave Kammerer.
When Burroughs takes off on a trip to Guatemala with a young man he is trying to get into the sack, Vollmer is visited by Carr and Allen Ginsberg (Ron Livingston), who beg her to leave her dysfunctional marriage and go back to the States with them, but the disturbing memory of Carr’s past act is never far behind.
The dialogue is at times arch, but the whole thing is so wonderfully appealing: Mexico looks gorgeous and there’s a tension strung tightly between all these people who are sexually frustrated and too caught up in their own misery to do anything sensible about it. The drawbacks are unavoidable, however, as the film builds beautifully before a very abrupt ending, and Love’s performance is uncharacteristically weak. She doesn’t play fragile so much as unsure, and it’s hard to watch her considering it seems it’s the actress who doesn’t know her next step rather than the character.
Reedus, on the other hand, is transfixing as Carr, the object of everyone’s obsession and understandably so; his intelligent, charismatic performance makes the whole thing worth watching from beginning to end.