Fans of the work of Chuck Palahniuk have been waiting in anticipation for over a decade for the chance to see another one of his novels be brought to life on the silver screen.
The cult success of Fight Club left fans of the openly gay writer begging for a film adaptation of what is arguably his best novel, Survivor, but due to some of the unsettling subject matter (the main character hijacking a plane and crashing it into the wilderness), the project has been kept in production limbo since 9/11.
Choke, however, managed to ease its way into the Cannes film festival earlier this year, and found a distributor with little difficulty. As per Palahniuk’s unique style, the film focuses on Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a character whose neuroses, namely his extreme sex-addiction, eventually end up controlling his life.
But there’s more to Victor than his crippling hypersexuality. Unable to pay for his senile and demented mother’s nursing home bills on the meager salary he receives from his job as a Colonial Times theme park ‘re-enactor’, Victor finds wealthy restaurant patrons to save him as he purposely chokes on his meal. After the hapless victims save his life, the con-man maintains contact with his victims and extorts money out of them by playing on their sympathies. It is only after he discovers his absentee father might not be the man his mother described that Victor’s life slowly begins to unravel.
Of course, to tell any more of the plot would indeed spoil the intricate and detailed storyline that Palahniuk constructed in his novel, and one of the film’s high points is just how close it manages to stick to its source material. For those expecting another Fight Club, you’ll be disappointed to find out that the film is nothing like David Fincher’s effort.
The over-the-top stylisation and slick camerawork has been replaced with a normality that makes the unbelievable events of the movie seem plausible. Never before has a world full of sex-addicts and mental patients seemed so normal, and director/writer Clark Gregg’s straight laced depiction of Victor’s entirely neurotic world is intentionally funny and even strangely alluring.
The film, however, is carried mostly by the acting of the two leads. Anjelica Huston plays the aforementioned paranoid mother with poise and grace that few other actresses could exhibit and Sam Rockwell is so used to playing a neurotic bumbler that his casting is par for the course.
Unfortunately, one of the more important secondary characters, Victor’s love interest Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald) fails to impress and comes across as little more than annoying and rather pathetic. She simply doesn’t manage to make a character that the average movie-goer could care about. Even more irritatingly, the actress’ Scottish brogue is actually quite obvious beneath her attempt to formulate the mid-western accent. The rest of the cast performs adequately, with a few noteworthy cameo scenes from Director Clark Gregg as Victor’s hilariously pedantic boss.
Despite Gregg’s talent for comedy, it seems he has trouble building up to a climax in his directing. Throughout the novel, three scenes stood out to me as being absolutely integral to the enjoyment of the novel. However, in Gregg’s adaptation, these scenes simply don’t contain the impact that they should have and seem to fizzle out. Gregg also failed to take into account a very important sub-plot that helps to redeem Victor and his horrible antics in the eyes of the reader. The ending itself is fairly unsatisfactory as well, and without the aforementioned subplot, doesn’t really have as much credibility as it should have.
This is not to say that Choke is a bad movie. In fact, for the most part, it’s actually very watchable. However, the movie could have had a greater thematic impact if Gregg had managed to involve us more in the minor characters, and actually show the more visceral and climactic scenes that were so meticulously described in Palahniuk’s novel.