June 09, 2013
The Dead Zone
Johnny is played by Christopher Walken, and he's already sort of grim looking before the accident: he reads Poe to his students and you can tell he's far more interested than they are, and then he sends them off with a reading assignment: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Johnny is a sort of modern-day Ichabod Crane. Walken is a tall, memorably distant looking actor. He's always sort of brooding but with a mixture of hopefulness in his vision. He turns this film, which might otherwise have been a somewhat calculated and commercial thriller (particularly for Cronenberg: this is his most mainstream movie that I've seen), into a powerful vehicle for his acting out the teacher's haunted existence. He saves lives but becomes something of a parlor trick, and he wrestles with God, especially when his fiance (Brooke Adams) abandons him and marries someone else during the five-year-coma.
The most interesting story thread--and the one that closes out the movie--involves Charlie Sheen as a smug politician who we understand will one day become a nuke-happy dictator unless Johnny acts quickly. Thus the movie gets to ponder the implications of interfering with human history: Johnny asks his doctor, Would you go back in time and kill Hitler if you could?
The movie is hampered by its humorlessness. It's grim throughout, and the surroundings--New England in Winter (although the film was shot in Cronenberg's native Ontario)--don't help. But it's an effective thriller, punctuated by a series of well-made sequences featuring Johnny's skills (including one where he assists the chief of police in the investigation of a serial killer).
With Tom Skerrit, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, and Jackie Burroughs. 103 min. ★★★