A History of Violence

Dan Movie Reviews

Tonight I went with Messrob to check out an advance screening of David Cronenberg’s latest, A History of Violence. Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the film is about Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), an every-man who owns a diner in a small town in Illinois. One day, two men (who happen to be on a murder/robbery spree) come in as he’s closing, and demand service. When he informs them that he’s closing up shop, they pull guns on him and the few remaining customers. Tom ends up saving the day, killing both of them in a fast, violent way. While he’s being called a hero, his quick reaction draws the attention of the media, and one Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a Philadelphia mobster who believes that Tom is not who he claims to be.

How this one act of heroism will ultimately put Tom’s family in jeopardy, and strain his marriage with his loving wife Edie (Maria Bello) and his relationships with his kids, is the focus of the film. Is Tom hiding a dark secret past? Why is Fogarty so convinced that Tom is someone named “Joey”? These are all questions that become answered as the film progresses.

The movie was excellent. Cronenberg sets the slow pace and tone of the film with the very long opening shot, and keeps you in a lulled state of complacency through excellent sound design (lots of very quiet scenes, limited use of music), which results in the extremely violent scenes taking on an even more horrific level, since you’re taken completely by surprise. Much like he did in Crash (the James Spader one – not the one this year!), Cronenberg doesn’t use slow motion at all – the violence happens in realtime, and as such, the ferocity and intensity is shocking. He also doesn’t hold back, and shows us the aftermath of such violent acts. Makeup effects were extensive, and justify the strong R rating. You will cringe.

At its core, though, this is a love story. It’s about what a man will do to keep his family together, when faced with extreme circumstances – many of which he brought upon himself. Musically, Howard Shore underscores the dramatic tension, and the romance. Cronenberg is known for his disturbing imagery and methods that question social norms. This is probably his most “accessible” film, unless you feel you can’t necessarily handle the extreme violence and graphic sexuality. But still, this film is definitely worth seeing.