I met David Cronenberg in Toronto while I was working on Millennium and he was doing Dead Ringers. Both production companies were using the same screening room for dailies. He seemed nice enough, not what you’d imagine if you’d seen any of his films up to that point. He was an early explorer of the goo school of cinema. Things like exploding heads in Scanners, and all sorts of liquid fleshy goo in Videodrome and The Fly. I liked the latter, didn’t care for the first two. I’d forgotten that he made The Dead Zone, one of the better Stephen King adaptations. He didn’t really get my attention again until A History of Violence, which I thought was one of the best films of 2005. In that film he managed to avoid all the clichés of violent films, the slow motion, the lingering close-ups of gore. The violence was quick, deadly, no-nonsense, and believable. Hardly ever see that in a movie. In this new one, there is a harrowing fight in a sauna between two men in leather, wielding knives, and Viggo Mortensen, stark naked. This is no Psycho shower scene, though, where the slashing was just artfully implied, and yet, there was no thirsty lingering on the blood, either. It simply made your skin crawl. How vulnerable can you be? (This is the second fight we’ve seen recently where a naked man was involved, but Cronenberg didn’t Beowulf the naughty bits like Robert Zemeckis did.)
This wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, though. It concerns the Russian Mafia in London, and you get the impression they could eat the Sicilian Mafia for breakfast, followed by the Cali Cartel lunch. A 14-year-old pregnant girl dies in childbirth, leaving behind a diary that the midwife who saved her baby keeps, and gets translated from the Russian. The most heartbreaking moments are hearing this girl tell her sad story, of how she thought she was being taken to London for a better life, singing in hotels. Right, honey, now spread your legs … these gangster animals use these girls with about as much regard as they use a roll of toilet paper. It gets very tense, but the revelation near the end wasn’t that big a surprise, and the film seemed to lose focus. I don’t demand a resolution, and certainly not a happy ending, but this one sort of left me hanging.