The End of Violence
directed by Win Wenders
(MGM, 1997)

Mike Max seems to have everything a Hollywood producer could want: a string of box office hits, a loving girlfriend and a wife who plans to leave him.

And in fact, his wife would leave him if she could get his attention long enough. But despite his being hooked up to every known telecommunications device, Max (Bill Pullman) is completely out of touch.

Not far across town, computer wiz Ray Bering isn't doing much better.

Bering (Gabriel Byrne) is a mysterious figure who works in a mysterious mansion, doing things that are so secretive even the audience isn't let in on them until halfway through the movie. And by then it's too late -- for Bering, for Max, for Max's wife Paige (Andie MacDowell), and for Wim Wenders, who directed this odd amalgam called The End of Violence.

The End of Violence isn't a bad film. It's beautifully photographed and features a searing score, punctuated by the howling-coyote notes of rock guitarist Ry Cooder. It was nominated for an Independent Spirit award for best director and a Golden Palm at Cannes, and it won Wenders the Film Strip in Gold award in Germany for Outstanding Achievement: Direction.

At the same time, though, it's an oddly unmoving film, in part because it relies heavily on voice-over narration and in part because it knows early on what it wants to say and says it bluntly, leaving little to guess at except why it takes Max so long to begin behaving like a human being.

Along the way, Wenders, who co-scripted and co-produced the film, dwells on -- or obsesses with -- a number of now-familiar themes.

Chief of these is the irony of technology: the more forms of communication we devise, the more out of touch we become. There's also a lesson or two on high-tech surveillance. That is, the more we see, the less we know.

But Antonioni showed us that 32 years ago in Blow-Up, leaving Wenders little to say that hasn't been said many times before.

Part of the problem is that Wenders relies heavily on stereotypical situations and one-dimensional characters, such as the two would-be assassins who are supposed to take Max's life, but end up losing their own.

Then there are the Hispanic gardeners (Enrique Castillo, Sal Lopez and Ulises Cuada) who save Max's life and risk their own to help him find out who's out to get him. Why do they do all this? Apparently because they, unlike Max, are simple people of the earth, in touch with their lives. Wenders offers no better explanation.

Byrne fares a bit better as Bering, if only because he's given some character scenes with his father, and doesn't have to bear the brunt of the voice-over narration.

But McDowell, with one explosive exception, is left with little to do but look despondent and talk on the phone while wistful love songs well up in the background. And when Max's girlfriend Cat (Traci Lind) falls in love with the detective working on Max's case (Loren Dean), we know we've fallen out of the domain of the original for good.

And that's bad. For Byrne, for Pullman, for McDowell, for Wenders. But mostly for us.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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