The Dead Zone (Cronenberg, 1983)

Here’s an anomaly of a movie. The Dead Zone looks expensive and expansive (as shot by Cronenberg’s longtime D.P. Mark Irwin), has a big name actor in Christopher Walken, and an epic story, yet it feels incredibly intimate and restrained. As displayed lately in examples like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, even early in his career Cronenberg holds the camera on his characters for long spells, letting the light bounce off their face, the wonder drain from their eyes in moments of conflict. Walken has the perfect look for this film, and his performance resonates equal parts pain and humility, never retreating to the over-the-top persona he’s known for today. The gift of second sight is treated with respect, slowly letting John Smith (Walken) understand that he can never really be free of it. The Dead Zone is full of sacrifices, and the ramifications go beyond our initial comprehension. John is literally changing the world one vision at a time, and it ultimately costs him his life. However, Cronenberg and Walken see this as a victory over the arrogance and madness of their respective foes, whether it be the serial killer who’s plagued the town of Castle Rock for years or Martin Sheen’s apocalyptic politician. With this gift, John Smith does just enough to make all the difference, and it’s an affecting entertainment, full of possibilities and outcomes beyond the final credits. Maybe that’s why the USA Network made a television show so many years later.

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