It took me a long time to appreciate Roy Scheider. Growing up, he was always just the guy from Jaws; I'd see him pop up in movie after movie, but never managed to pick up on just what a great actor he is. Only in the last 10 years or so have I begun to understand that the guy makes everything better just by virtue of being in it, to the point where now I'll seek titles out for no other reason than because they star Roy Scheider. One such title is the 1989 thriller Night Game, a by-the-numbers thriller in which Scheider plays a Texas cop on the hunt for a serial killer.
That's essentially the whole plot of Night Game: Scheider is Detective Mike Seaver, investigating a series of brutal murders in which a series of women had their throats slashed on nights when the pitcher for the Huston Astros pitches and wins a game. Seaver is a former ballplayer himself and a big Astros fan, giving him special insight into just what's going on. Will he find the killer and stop the murders before they reach his front door?
Night Games' non-stylish competence shouldn't be surprising, as it was directed by Peter Masterson (he of former Off the Shelf entry Blood Red fame). His every choice behind the camera is predictable and safe for this kind of movie, resulting in something that's totally watchable but which fails to leave any kind of impression. It's slick enough and skillful enough and entertaining enough, but not much more. Unfortunately, the cop-chasing-a-killer genre is just too vast to recommend a passable time waster like Night Game too enthusiastically. It's not even the best late '80s thriller Roy Scheider made.
On the other side of the spectrum is Wim Wenders' 1997 drama The End of Violence, which opts for the ponderous and occasionally pretentious route over Night Game's sleazy commercialism. Bill Pullman plays Mike Max, a very successful, very famous producer of trashy, violent movies who receives an anonymous letter containing super secret and super sensitive informaton. Before he's able to read it, though, he is kidnapped and held at gunpoint. He manages to escape and his captors end up dead, leaving the American public believing he's either dead or guilty of murder himself. Max falls in with a group of Mexican migrant workers (among them Henry Silva), who help him investigate the kidnapping and the contents of the top secret letter. Elsewhere, his unhappy wife (Andie McDowell), who was planning on leaving him before his disappearance, ponders solemnly in her big house...and that's pretty much it for her.
Give Wim Wenders credit for this: he does not make stupid movies. He is an artist with a capital A, a visionary filmmaker with more than truly great film to his credit. It's just that when he falls short -- as he does with The End of Violence -- the results can seem stupid even when they are not. Wenders clearly has some big ideas he's working with and big things he wants to say about American culture in the late '90s, but those ideas never quite come together in a meaningful way. We can draw our own conclusions and connect some of the dots ourselves -- it's usually to a film's credit when it assumes intelligence on the part of the audience -- but Wenders doesn't give us enough tools to decipher the film. Everything comes out half-baked.
Make no mistake that The End of Violence is a mess -- a movie confused about what it wants to say and how to say it (some of that may be because it was recut after audiences at Cannes reacted poorly; perhaps the original version was clearer in expressing Wenders' intentions). And yet it is completely watchable and absorbing; until the moments in which my hands closed on air, I was sure the movie was building to something profound. Unlike Night Game, a one-and-done paperback of a thriller, I suspect I'll be coming back to The End of Violence. That's in part due to the cast -- 1997 Bill Pullman is my very favorite Bill Pullman (between this movie, Lost Highway and Zero Effect, it's safe to say this was the best year of his career) -- and in part because I'm a fan of these big ensemble movies. If the choice is between a movie that achieves its modest goals in an unremarkable way and a movie with a reach that exceeds its grasp, I'll always pick the latter.
Night Game Blu-ray release date: March 31, 2015
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
The End of Violence Blu-ray release date: March 24, 2015
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Bonus Features: Trailer
Buy The End of Violence from Olive Films here