End of Violence [1997]

If Wim Wenders falls prey to overambition in this sprawling story of identity, conscience, and voyeurism in modern Los Angeles, it pays off in a richness absent from so many of Hollywood's safe, sterile films. Bill Pullman is the ostensible hero, a Roger Corman-like producer abruptly kidnapped by a pair of dim thugs who prepare to kill him in the shadow of the L.A. freeway. Gabriel Byrne watches, powerless, from on high, a meek Big Brother wired up through surveillance cameras hidden throughout the city. When Pullman disappears into the faceless population of L.A., adopted by a family of Hispanic gardeners, he begins his own covert investigation in parallel with the official inquiry conducted by movie-buff cop Loren Dean. Ostensibly a thriller, the film has little onscreen violence, but shadowy threats prowl around the edges, and echoes of unseen murders permeate the picture. The narrative is a tangle, neglecting characters and leaving the vast conspiracy more a suggestion than a fully conceived plot, possibly the victim of last-minute reworking after a disastrous showing at Cannes. But Wenders's unerring eye for image and color creates a stunning, often startlingly beautiful film of unsettling menace and haunting mystery, and his generosity of character fills this world with vivid personalities. Cult director Sam Fuller and character actor Henry Silva have small roles, and Traci Lind costars as a young stuntwoman with ambitions of an acting career. As always, Ry Cooder's score is superb. --Sean Axmaker

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