Monday, September 24, 2012

A History of Violence

David Cronenberg has had an interesting career. Like any truly talented director he's had his share of hits and misses. For every success like Scanners and The Fly he's helmed, he's had stinkers like Crash and eXistenZ. It's to be expected of any filmmaker. So it's with a certain amount of hesitation that I went to see Cronenberg's newest critically acclaimed film, A History of Violence.

The story revolves around Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a small town family man who owns a local restaurant. When a couple of hoods try to rob his establishment he takes matters in his own hands and both thieves end up dead. Now heralded as a hero, the sudden media attention catches the interest of some gangsters in Philadelphia that claim to know him as a particularly brutal assassin.
If you know your Cronenberg films you'd know that this isn't like his other films right off the bat. There's no sign of people mutating into grotesque creatures or perversions of the flesh that he seems to gravitate toward. It's a simple story that is based on a little known graphic novel of the same name. The fact that the graphic novel isn't on everyone's coffee table might be the reason why the film is kind of meh. It has its fair share of great character moments and some shockingly violent sequences (the nose through the skull bit was quite nasty), but in the end there's really not much to it.

Viggo Mortensen is known for playing the quiet types and he's really good at it, otherwise he wouldn't be typecast like he is. His character goes through some changes as the accused, but in the end I had a hard time sympathizing with him. I don't know why but I never really connected with his plight. I felt the most sympathy for Maria Bello's character, Tom Stall's wife. We get to see her taking in all these horrific things around her and dealing with it in a very realistic way, although her little spontaneous horny moment was a little baffling. I get why she suddenly fucks her hubby out of thin air halfway through the film (they're into role-playing sex), but it seemed a little out of place when it happens. Oh well.

Ed Harris isn't in much of the film but his character of Fogarty, the one-eyed mafioso, was creepy to the extreme. The scenes he was in were highlights of the film. William Hurt on the other hand came off as silly and hokey as the Godfather of Philly's crime syndicate. He plays his character as if he's an effeminate interior decorator. Lame.
There's a sub-plot that's abandoned for no apparent reason that deals with Tom Stall's son, Ashton Holmes, who is sick of taking shit from his high school's bully that he snaps and puts him in the hospital. It was interesting to see how this weak little freshman finds out that he has killer instincts like his father that culminates into a nasty little moment with a shotgun, but once that twist shows up its forgotten and we never hear about it again.

It's a tight little film that starts out pretty interesting with some nice suspense buildup, we get screwed around by the identity mix-up portion of the story, then the finale comes and it's a total letdown. While the film's final shot is amazing, it doesn't hold any emotional ground (at least for me) because the last 30 minutes of the film are so lackluster. Like I said, not all the films in a director's resume can be winners. We have to have some poo and some middle-ground flicks to even it out. A History of Violence definitely qualifies as a middle-ground film.

2 out of 5

*written 9/30/05

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