Choke

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Directed by: Clark Gregg

Starring:
Sam Rockwell - Victor Mancini
Anjelica Huston - Ida Mancini
Kelly Macdonald - Paige Marshall
Brad William Henke - Denny


Choke - Poster

I'm not sure how Choke, a film involving sex-addiction, colonial parks, scam-artistry, and possibly being the half-clone of Jesus Christ, is one of the sweetest films of the year, but it is. It probably has something to do with tremendous performances from Sam Rockwell, Angelica Huston, and Kelly MacDonald, a strong adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik's novel of the same name, and deceptively brilliant directorial job by Clark Gregg.

Victor Mancini is a bad guy, or at least, that's what he keeps telling himself. He must be: he has no great career aspirations so he wastes his time working as a colonial re-enactor; he scams people out of money by choking on food at restaurants so that some wealthy patron can save him and then provide a lucrative correspondence over the years; he fucks anything that moves. He grudgingly puts his mother (Angelica Huston) up in a nice facility as she wastes away from dementia, never realizing the sacrifices he's making for her.

While Huston will probably be the one to get all the accolades and awards for her performance, the one who truly amazed me was Rockwell. I already knew he was one of the best actors working today but like his performance as Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the role of Victor fits him perfectly as he is charming, sweet, and lovable all beneath a heap of sleaze. It's delicate balancing act that makes us love Victor even though he hates himself with good reason.

Of course, as seen with Fight Club, Palahnuik is no easy adaptation, but Clark Gregg has done a magnificent job both in taking the words and applying a tone that's a complete 180 from what David Fincher did with Fight Club, but still making a film that hits just as hard. There are no great flourishes, but it's a sly approach that really nails how to temper the quirkiness with dark humor.

At times, Choke can be almost too surreal and almost goes completely over the edge, but guided by Rockwell's enchanting performance and Gregg's steady writing and direction, Choke somehow takes all of its dark subject matter and turns it into something life-affirming and hilariously charming.

Words by
Matt Goldberg
6.22.08


Rating: 8.7 out of 10