Thursday, 3 March 2011

Choke (2008).

Sam Rockwell plays a sex-addicted conman named Victor Mancini in this adaptation of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk that is often as darkly amusing as it is offbeat and disturbing.

Starting off at a meeting for sex addicts (a scene that immediately, and inevitably, brings to mind the central character from Fight Club seeking solace in the various meetings he attended), we quickly get to know Sam Rockwell’s character as someone who really doesn’t care for anyone other than himself. Well, okay, there’s his best friend (Brad William Henke) who can’t stop playing with himself and there’s his hospitalised mother (Anjelica Huston) but everyone else seems to be weighed up in terms of potential dollars or potential sexual gratification. As things unfold, however, we find that there is something more to the man. This becomes much more noticeable when he finds himself drawn to Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), a young nurse helping to care for his mother.

Director Clark Gregg (better known nowadays, arguably, for his appearance in the latest wave of Marvel superhero movies but who also wrote the screenplay based on Palahniuk’s novel) certainly shows talent here though he’s helped immeasurably by a central performance from Sam Rockwell that ranks up there with some of his very best (and that’s high praise indeed considering how much I enjoy almost every one of the man’s performances). Rockwell easily moves from venomous slimeball to manipulative smoothie to defensive manchild as the story demands and his bad qualities are just as watchable as the good. Anjelica Huston is also superb in a role that shows her playing a senile, elder figure in the present day and then a radical, off-kilter parent in a number of flashback scenes. Brad William Henke provides many of the easier laughs while Kelly Macdonald is very easy to like. Everyone in supporting roles, including the talented Mr Gregg, do very well.

Choke has a number of points that it makes well, some for comedic effect and some to provoke a bit of thought while you’re enjoying the onscreen antics (e.g. the whole choking scam that Rockwell utilises to make money, hence the title of the movie), and it does this without sticking them down our throat, no pun intended. And then in the next minute it gives us something as hilarious as a pretend rape that proves to be just too demanding for the “attacker”, who just can’t get anything the way that the “victim” wants it.

I REALLY liked Choke. It certainly goes way out there at times, especially in the sub-plot that reveals information about Victor’s father, but it’s always still just got one foot touching the ground, thanks to that central performance from Rockwell.


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