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The End of Violence

Directed by Wim Wenders

Wenders’ first American film since Paris, Texas is a further exploration of some of his recurring themes: the uses and abuses of technology; the attractiveness and repulsivness of violence; and the reflexive role of cinema itself. Here these three concerns collide, since the piece of technology in question is the camera, whether it is used to depict violence on the screen, or to provide security monitoring of a city, which often amount to the same thing.




Mike Max (Bill Pullman) is a wealthy and successful producer of violent action films in Hollywood. Titles he has worked on include Creative Killing, and his latest is called The Seeds of Violence. After he receives an e mail, which he incidentally never gets to read, concerning top secret developments in the installation of a network of hi-tech surveillance cameras to combat crime in Los Angeles, he becomes a wanted man by the FBI. The message came from a retired NASA computer scientist (Gabriel Byrne) who is working on the launch of this system. Two goons who try to kill Max wind up dead, and Max becomes a fugitive, sheltering with a family of Hispanic immigrants. Byrne’s character witnesses the attempted murder on the TV monitoring system, but is unable to decipher precisely what happened. Meanwhile, Max’s formerly disillusioned wife (Andie MacDowell once again displaying her extremely limited range) develops a taste for power when she takes over his production company in his absence. An idealistic young homicide cop (Loren Dean) investigates Max’s disappearance, and falls for the stunt actress (Tracy Lind) who was the last person to see him alive. Daniel Banzali as an FBI agent overlooking Byrne’s work, and Sam Fuller, the veteran filmmaker who died last year, as Byrne’s ageing father, more or less complete the cast. Oh, and there’s a Guatemalan refugee who the FBI detail to be Byrne’s maid, who turns out to be not all she seems.
For a film which is a study of violence, something usually thought of as primal and visceral, The End of Violence is a slow and meditative affair. Perhaps this is one of the manifold ironies floating around, another being that the glossy good-looks of the movie appear to parody Hollywood superficiality. There are a number of visual in-jokes as well, like Byrne’s monitoring station being located in the Griffith Park Observatory, which was host to a classic scene in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, and a European director working in America using a set design based on Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks at the Diner.
At first viewing, it would be easy to dismiss The End of Violence as being digressive and disjointed. Certainly, not enough about who knows what about whom is made known. But what do I know? Such a strategy seems to go with the territory when you’re fooling around with conspiracy theories, and to be sanctioned by them. The End of Violence may not have the cohesion and inexorability of Paris, Texas or Wings of Desire, but reports of Wenders’ decline have been greatly exaggerated. The sum of its parts may be less than the whole, and everything may not quite add up, but even if there are no clear answers, it is surely worth asking pertinent questions, as the ambiguous title does, such as: what is the end of violence?; and where and when will violence end?

First published in Film Ireland









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