Wim Wenders’ first American film since “Paris, Texas” 13 years ago, “The End of Violence” is a cool, contemplative consideration of a hot contemporary topic. Intriguing for its oblique, circuitous approach to narrative and thematic concerns, as well as for its physical beauty and unusually (these days) appealing vision of Los Angeles, this French-backed production will attract some attention due to its director and cast, but it ultimately falls between the stools of art and commercial cinema, making it a tough sell for the international marketplace.
Wenders and writer Nicholas Klein developed this script quickly when another project temporarily stalled, and result is an ambitious though muted attempt to deal with the subject of violence without wallowing in violence itself. Pic’s offbeat mix of diverse elements from L.A. society and meditative approach give it an alluring texture, but its half-baked drama and vaguely pretentious nature will leave arthouse patrons hungry and mainstream viewers feeling stranded.
Bill Pullman plays Mike Max, a high-powered Hollywood producer who has made his name and fortune with brutal, blood-soaked action films. So absorbed in his wheeling and dealing that his ignored wife, Paige (Andie MacDowell), is on the verge of leaving him, Mike has little time or inclination to consider the implications of his work, although he does allow a touch of human concern to seep through in his feelings for a beautiful stunt woman, Cat (Traci Lind), who has been injured during the shooting of one of his pictures.
In the most embarrassing scenes in the film, Mike escapes from two buffoonish hit men who have kidnapped and are on the verge of executing him. Instead of heading back to his old life, however, Mike hides out with his Mexican gardener’s large family for a month.
Paralleling Mike’s odyssey is a long, mysterious string of scenes featuring Ray Bering (Gabriel Byrne), a surveillance expert working out of Griffith Park Observatory who seems to have hundreds of cameras at his disposal covering random happenings throughout the city. Ray takes a young Latina into his employ, and on occasion visits his father, played by vet U.S. director Samuel Fuller.
These two main story strands take virtually the entire picture to clarify and come together, and are broken up by numerous other characters and events. Mike’s disappearance naturally prompts a police investigation, led by young detective Doc Block (Loren Dean), who takes a personal interest in Cat, now an actress in the ongoing Max production under the helm of an acerbic Euro director (Udo Kier).
Mike himself makes discreet contact with Cat, although he’s sure to avoid contact with either his business associates or his wife, who begins proceedings to take over her husband’s affairs.
Given the leisurely pace, Wenders and Klein keep the characters’ intentions and interrelatedness too enigmatic and fuzzy for far too long, with the film’s meanings suggesting themselves only very late in the game. The impact falls well short of what must have been intended, as the filmmakers clearly were driven by their desire to say something about contempo culture and its relationship with society.
Wenders’ concerns and ambitions are serious and sympathetic, touching on the pros and cons of public surveillance and the consequences of the bombardment of violent images on the quality of life and the mind. The gentleness and thoughtfulness of the approach is appealing, but in a strange way this doesn’t entirely feel like a Wenders film; the dialogue readings are quicker, there are perhaps fewer extended scenes, and the shots lack the poetic resonance of his best work.
Visually, pic is composed of beautifully clear widescreen images, and L.A. has seldom looked better in recent years than as presented here by Wenders and his first-time lenser, Pascal Rabaud, whose background is in commercials.
Best in the cast are Pullman, even though he almost seems too thoughtful to be a schlock producer, and Lind, an enormously appealing actress who brings warmth and hearty humor to her role as the scarred stuntwoman with a challenging, constructive approach to life. MacDowell and Byrne are more opaque in roles that are low on clarity and motivation.
Behind-the-scenes contributions are first-class, including Ry Cooder’s richly colorful score.