With Hollywood moviemaking as a metaphor, director Wim Wenders (Paris,Texas, Pina) weaves a modern day tale of commercialism, consumerism and introspection. Successful Hollywood producer Mike Max (Bill Pullman, Independence Day), having made his fortune producing films with no redeeming social value, experiences a life-altering event when he is kidnapped and almost killed. Irony is not lost on Mike who decides to leave the world of Hollywood behind, a world he once embraced and which he now views as having negatively impacted society. Orbiting Mike’s universe are his beautiful, bored wife (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day) who is on the verge of leaving, and a scientist (Gabriel Byrne,The Usual Suspects) who has mounting concerned about a world where surveillance and Big Brother-like tactics may be on the increase to keep society in check.
When you’re handed a movie that’s directed by Wim Wenders, you’re mind may very likely conjure up fond memories of a beautiful film like ‘Wings of Desire,’ or a rousing and compelling documentary the likes of ‘Buena Vista Social Club.’ You’re not likely going to be thinking of ‘The End of Violence,’ and for very good reason.
Mike Max, Bill Pullman is a self made Hollywood success story. He’s the producer of some of the biggest hit films in entertainment; they also happen to be among the most violent. Having long ago given up worry about safety when executing a stunt, the film opens with the injury of one of the best stunt actresses in the business Cat, Traci Lind. Mike’s solution to avoid being sued is to give her the lead in his next movie. At the same time Max is in precarious danger of losing his beautiful but bored wife Paige as he can’t seem to put down the phone long enough to pay any attention to her.
Max’s world is turned upside down when two thugs are hired to kidnap him and execute him. Surviving the ordeal - Max sets about to change his ways and get out of the business that breeds the violence that had befallen him. Or something. Gabriel Byrne watches over everything using Orwellian surveillance cameras that are set up all over Los Angeles. He’s able to see things go badly for people, but can’t seem to be unable to pick up the phone and call the police. Loren Dean is a movie fan detective who seems to be more interested in meeting the Hollywood elite that create this violence inspiring material than actually solving real crimes committed by real criminals since they were apparently inspired to violence because of violent movies while also uncovering a deeper and more deadly mystery. Or something.
If it sounds to you like ‘The End Of Violence’ isn’t very well thought out in it’s message about violence begetting violence, then you’d be right on the money. This film works to weave together multiple seemingly separate stores like some sort of “Proto-Crash,” where the thinest of tangent story threads bring the entire piece together - only it doesn’t. Or at least in a way that means anything genuine.
Characters are entirely too surface to have any subtext. We know Max is busy because we meet him surrounded by a portable satellite internet system, a laptop, a smaller laptop, a cell phone, an ear piece, a cordless phone, and an intercom system. You hardly need a scalpel to dissect this scene; a dull spoon would do fine. Then you have Andie MacDowell, a beautiful and talented actress whose entire arc is to lounge around her huge mansion in white flowing robes and be bored with herself because violent movies keep her husband from noticing her anymore.
Then there’s Gabriel Byrne, an actor who really only needs to give a sideways glance to bring presence to any role, is pretty much wasted typing on a keyboard and looking at computer screens. When he’s not doing that, he’s eating pizza and talking philosophy with his Dad, pondering the wright and wrong of his Big Brother position. Perhaps the only real character worth following is Traci Lind’s Cat as she tries to become more than a stunt woman and learns more about herself and her desires in the process. You could build a real movie out of that piece alone - only we’re not given that much time with her to care all that much.
In spite of story issues that don’t lead to compelling characters or performances, the real problem with this movie is that it takes a dramatic, volatile issue such as “violence in entertainment” and takes a hardline stance with it. “Violence is bad and ruins relationships; end of story.” When you don’t stop to consider other facets of the issue, you wear your theme on the cuff of your sleeve and don’t bother to actually say anything. If movies are violent today, or as they were in 1997, consider that a hundred thousand people regularly would pack themselves into the Colosseum to watch men literally slaughter each other and be eaten by lions a mere 2000 years ago. Or the fact that actual pigs blood was regularly used in productions of Shakespeare’s plays 400 years ago to accurately depict violence on stage because they didn’t have Red Dye 40 and Karo Syrup. When you look at the issue in that context, violent TV and movies today are a lot more tame by comparison, making this film all the more pedantic in its approach to the central premise.
As a movie ‘The End of Violence’ isn’t really anything interesting or important to write home about. Considering the incredible cast, who many were at their peak in 1997, and a director of Wim Wenders’ caliber, this is a missed opportunity and ultimately, unfortunately an opportunity to be skipped.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘The End of Violence’ arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc ones straight to the main menu.
‘The End Of Violence’ fairs pretty well with this 2.35:1 1080p HD presentation. Grain levels are nice and even giving rise to some pretty fantastic detail levels - especially since much of this film is in closeup shots of the actors. Colors are also very strong here, if maybe pushed a tad towards the reds making flesh tones in some scenes appear a bit too pink, but not so bad that you’d notice really.
Contrast appears to be even as black levels and shadows are fairly strong, helping to create a sense of depth in the image. If there is a bit of a problem here and there it’s that it feels like some edge enhancement was employed, sometimes the image just looks too crunchy for it’s own good. Banding doesn’t appear to be much of a problem here. In the end a pretty solid HD presentation.
With a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, ‘The End of Violence’ gets pretty good marks. Levels are even, lending to some nice spacial imaging for the score, dialogue, and sound effects to rest on. If there is something to knock this mix for is that there are times where the movie is very quiet to a point where some added sound effects or other elements would have helped hold the scene. Maybe boosting this to a 5.1 surround track would have helped? It almost feels like the audio drops out except a character may be talking on the phone. It’s an odd effect. Beyond that, things for the most part stick to the midranges where there isn’t a lot of sound in general to create any kind of distortion. A pretty good track all around.
Original Trailer: (HD 2:26) This full frame trailer actually makes this movie look kinda good and makes much more sense out of the material then the film itself does.
‘Paris Texas,’ ‘Wings of Desire,’ ‘Buena Vista Social Club;’ these are good Wim Wenders movies to watch. ‘The End of Violence,’ not so much. The idea of the movie is sound: does our entertainment give rise to more violence, and therefore are our methods for curbing said violence ethical or unethical? If only the actual movie used that central theme to good use. This was a movie I was actually pretty excited to see; in the end it left me irritated. Even with a solid HD transfer and DTS-HD MA audio track, my advice is to skip it, unless you’re extremely curious.