The Dead Zone
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Debra Hill
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Cronenberg is one of my favourite filmmakers because he tackles a lot of strange issues, but here he adapts a story by Stephen King that turns out rather well. The beginning of the film plays a lot like a murder mystery: Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a teacher who suffers a terrible car accident and wakes up after 5 years in a coma to discover he has a psychic detective ability- he can see the past and the future, people's darkest thoughts and memories. We watch as the local police are searching for a serial killer and try to enlist Johnny to help them. For the first half of the movie we watch the struggle of Johnny to cope with being gone for 5 years in a coma and him also coping with the new abilities he has woken up with. After the business with the killer, Johnny moves out of town and starts privately teaching a young boy. This is where the film shifts into gear and we discover what The Dead Zone is all about: if you were able to see something ahead of time and had the ability to stop it, at any cost, would you do it? Johnny relates this to Dr. Weizak (Herbert Lom), who was in Germany at the time of World War II, by asking if he could go back in time before the war, knowing what he knows now and kill Hitler. Of course the doctor replies that because he loves people and helping them, he would have no other choice. Mixed in halfway through is Greg Stillson, played by Martin Sheen- a devilish candidate for senator who is clearly a strong arm type of fellow. Here is where Johnny's choices come in. The "dead zone" is basically when, if he can see what will happen, he change the outcome of one of his visions.
The writing, of course, is incredible. We already have the story written by Stephen King, and in the hands of a master like Cronenberg. This is a lot unlike most of the material he has worked with but he works so well with it that it's surprising you don't see Cronenberg working with a lot more material of this style. The whole plot of the film is wonderful, we get a lot of very creepy interesting stuff happening in the first hour and then the last 40 minutes is the climax and then the slow discovery of Johnny's true abilities. A very well written film.
Christopher Walken plays a really excellent part- the movie is obviously a far out concept, but the character himself is someone that you don't usually see him playing. Johnny is a very reserved individual for the most part and especially after he is inflicted with his abilities we see him try to withdraw from the world. Walken enunciates the inner turmoil of Johnny; 5 years in a coma and he has woken up to discover a rash of killings, his mother passes away shortly after, he has lost the love of his life to another man, and we watch the anguish he goes through after all this only to now be burdened with psychic powers. A truly great performance. Martin Sheen also plays an absolutely love-to-hate villain, and a few other supporting roles are played very well.
This movie is a five out of five star movie because it shows me what David Cronenberg has in his bag of tricks (I'm a huge fan of his anyways) and I also enjoyed Christopher Walken as much as I ever have in a film, someone who constantly surprises me. The story itself is thanks to King, who is and has long been an inspiration of mine in my own writing. I also like to throw out there that Debra Hill is a producer here, also on one of my favourite franchises, Halloween.