Superb adaptation of a typically flawed Palahniuk character.

Released in 2008, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 17 Dec 2008 by Scott Morris
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Attentive members of this parish will no doubt recall Fight Club, the last cult film adapted from cult author Chuck Palahniuk. Choke follows a somewhat similar path, albeit in a somewhat more low key way, caused no doubt by the somewhat smaller budget available for this. While, if memory serves, this cost something like one sixtieth of the money to make, the good news is that it has something on the other of fifty nine sixtieths of the quality.

Sam Rockwell leads as Victor Mancini, a man forced to drop out of med school to earn the cash to keep his mentally unstable mother in a halfway decent psychiatric hospital, taking a menial job as a period costumed extra at an Olde Worlde historical American theme park. In as much as so young a country as America has any history, but that's a side track. This, it seems, doesn't quite pay the bills on its own, so he's developed a neat side trick in heading off to a restaurant, invoking a choking fit and 'selecting' someone to save him. The scam here being that that saviour will continue to feel some responsibility to the saved, allowing for Victor to continue to tap them up for small sums of money for various invented ailments and troubles.

It probably wouldn't be a Chuck Palahniuk novel if that was the only socially reprehensible thing about Victor, so it comes as little surprise to find out that he's also a sex addict. The only spanner in these works comes after bumping in to a doctor at the hospital, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), who not only proposes an, er, radical treatment for his mothers dementia, but also may well be someone Victor could fall in love with.

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At heart, this is a film about the relationships that even the most damaged of us form with other, perhaps equally unusual people, and something of a character study of one of those people in particular. Fortunate, then, that it has attracted such a talented cast. Every time I see Sam Rockwell in any film the main thing I reminded of is that I want to see him in more films. It's very rare indeed that he gives a bad performance, and this actually ranks as one of his best. Charismatic and despite his less than perfect character, sympathetic, he's such a likeable and watchable presence that this would probably be a decent enough film if everything else about it sucked.

Fortunate, then, that everything else about it is rather good as well. The script is sharply observed and captures the spirit of the source material as well as any adaptation I can think of, and it's often riotously funny. Not, as you might imagine from the description, one for those who choose to be offended easily, but for the sort of audience a Chuck Palahniuk adaptation would tend to draw, it's a hoot.

The supporting cast is also uniformly superb, with particular praise having to go to Angelica Huston as Victor's mother. Shown also on flashback to Victor's formative years, where she would drag her son away from foster parents on ill advised escapades, it's a role just as difficult as Rockwell's and one handled just as expertly.

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As a film about allowing yourself to be close to others, the only thing that I'll come close to criticising in it is that it isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is. Some of its philosophical advice is more trite than insightful, and there's a few tangents it takes where it may have been more advised to keep to a more light hearted vein. Something this left of field is never going to hit a serious stride as a 'meaningful' drama, and it would be poorer for it if it did. However this, and it's almost more of a vague feeling than any particular scene, occurs so rarely that it's barely worth a mention, and barely detracts from what has to be one of the most enjoyable films this year.

I have a feeling that this will become one of those 'undiscovered gem' kind of films that will only reach critical mass on DVD, by if you have the opportunity I heartily recommend you get in on the ground floor of this bandwagon. Do bandwagon have ground floors? Anyway, watch it, is what I'm trying to say.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 5/5 TippyMarks.

Clark Gregg
Cast list:
Sam Rockwell (Victor Mancini)
Anjelica Huston (Ida J. Mancini)
Kelly Macdonald (Paige Marshall)
Clark Gregg (Lord High Charlie)
Brad William Henke (Denny)
Gillian Jacobs (Beth / Cherry Daquiri)