Monday, November 14, 2005

A History of Violence (2005)

David Cronenberg's A History of Violence is quiet but not unassuming.

Set in a quiet town in Indiana, we are introduced to Tom Stall, a family man with a seemingly stable home life. Tom is played by Viggo Mortensen--who I only remember from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy but has been in a number of famous films. His wife, Edie, is played by Maria Bello. He has two children and works as a cook in a diner.

From the opening credits and the title of the film, we are all aware that this movie has a darker, more sinister side to it. Without giving too much away by way of plot, two men try to rob the diner Tom works in. It's almost as if Tom silently changes into an efficient killer. Tom completely wipes out both robbers in a rather grotesque manner. And it is from that point on the audience begins wondering what kind of past Tom Stall has, or used to have. That's all I will give in terms of plot.

The film's basic message is that violence has a way of spreading, almost like a virus. We see in very straightforward ways how Tom's son has violent tendencies, inherited of course from his father. Coming from the director who made Dead Ringers (1988), starring Jeremy Irons, I was expecting a lot more in terms of creativity. The relationships in Cronenberg's new film are too straightforward in comparison to his earlier work, which was enigmatic and puzzling. As I wrote earlier, this film is quiet but not unassuming. The film assumes too much. It sees too mathematical a relationship between family and violence.

I particularly hated the "bully" character who was picking on Tom's son. The bully gave the most ridiculous evil eye when Tom's son caught a fly ball in gym class, which the bully was on the losing side of. Are we to believe that they really fought over a lousy baseball game during gym class? Couldn't they write a better reason for their fighting into the script? Why not just make the bully the type of bully that has no reason for picking his victims--those are the worst ones, aren't they?

The audience laughed at various points, sometimes intended and sometimes unintended by the director. One of the most unexpected scenes was towards the end of the film with William Hurt. The film transforms from a mystery/drama into a semi-comedy. But the change in tempo and tone is welcome and the effect was well appreciated. This laughter worked well in offsetting the actual images of violence in the film. These scenes were designed perfectly. The gun shots are isolated, with very little music or sound in the background. It has the eerie quietness that reeks of realism.

Apart from the rather one-dimensional writing and smaller problems with the plotline involving Tom's son, A History of Violence is fantastic in its general effect.


Mad.J.D. said...

I liked HOV, but I was disappointed with some aspects. I too detested the bully character, if not the entire bully storyline. The major distinguishing characteristic about this film that no one seems to be keying in to is that Cronenberg did not conceive this story himself. In fact, he didn't even adapt the screenplay. This is a departure for a director whose signature works (Videodrome, Scanners, Dead Ringers) all bear a distinct flavor before they even go before a camera. Essentially, this is David Cronenberg working for a paycheck. It's like if David Lynch made the next Mission: Impossible movie.

Anyway, Cronenberg has used the stories of other people before and he still manages to put his stamp on things. This one, though...something about this movie needed to ring true in a way that Cronenberg's movies usually don't. Usually it's okay. I'm a big admirer of his, and realism is not a requisite ingredient. But this movie needs to have the gravity that realism brings to the table.

The acting here, which is by no means as bad as some people are saying, is perfect for Cronenberg but maybe not so perfect for a graphic novel adaptation. The result is a feeling of disjointedness. For example, I love William Hurt's performance, but I feel like it doesn't belong in this movie, if that makes any sense. I could go on, but I think I would only get more inarticulate.

If Cronenberg's body of work is "normal" (hint: most people don't think it is) then this movie is very strange. If Cronenberg's movies are strange, then I don't really know what to make of this one.

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