A History Of Violence

"Excellent"

A History Of Violence Review


Those well schooled in the history of cinema (or who've just seen a movie or two in their time) cannot help but look at the scenes of idyllic content occupying most of the beginning of A History of Violence without knowing that something bad is coming to bust up this happy family unit. Of course, they're helped along by the fact that the film opens on a chillingly calm scene - composed almost entirely of one tracking shot - in which a pair of laconic crooks on the lam execute a number of people in a small motel with about as much emotion as they'd use to pick up their dry cleaning. While the killers and the happy family are obviously on a collision course, it's not the violent impact that matters so much as the almost more shocking aftermath, and the secrets it may uncover.

Viggo Mortensen (in a welcome return to acting after too much time barking orders in elvish and swinging a broadsword from horseback) plays Tom Stall, a family man who runs a diner in a small Indiana town. He's not originally from the town, but he's been there long enough that everyone has long ago accepted him as one of their own. It's a normal life, Tom's young daughter has nightmares and his geeky teenage son Jack gets picked on at school, but other than that, things are good. Then the killers come into the diner right before closing, and just as they're about to execute a waitress, Tom springs into action, gunning them both down in spectacular fashion. Tom becomes a local celebrity but seems traumatized by the whole affair, wishing it could just be put behind him.

At this point, it seems that A History of Violence will become a meditation on killing and what it does to people. Although the director is David Cronenberg, and the diner scene is shot with appropriately bloody physicality (few filmmakers have as much affinity for the frailty of the human body), most of the film has so far had a quiet grace to it that calls to mind A Map of the World, another story about the after-effects of death in the heartland. Then Carl Fogaty (Ed Harris, half his face scarred by barbed wire and with one mostly dead eye) walks in with a couple of goons and things go in quite a different direction. Especially after Fogaty asks Stall's wife Edie (Maria Bello) why she thinks "Tom" is so good at killing people?

Cronenberg has a tricky task to pull off here, juggling between his cool dissection of violence and the sickening trauma it leaves behind - nobody is left unscarred, physically or spiritually, here - and the scenes of over-the-top brutality which he stages later in the film with scenery chewers like Harris (never better, in a Grand Guignol sense) and William Hurt (who should never play a mobster, ever). Some of it evokes a knowing sort of laughter and some is simply pulverizing in its visceral impact, especially the collateral damage wrought on Tom's family. The result is a surprisingly entertaining film that still leaves you with a sickening residue in the pit of your stomach.

More so than some of Cronenberg's more gothic contraptions (Crash, The Fly), A History of Violence exists for the most part in the real world, even if some of the criminal elements seem to have wandered in from a straight-to-video piece of hackwork, and it's all the more gruesome for that reality. Is there a message in the end? Not likely, but there's also much more roiling beneath the surface here - the lies people tell to live with themselves, what precisely it means to kill someone - than may be apparent on a single viewing.

A film that's hard to shake, it sticks with you like a virus.

Get ready for your history lesson, sweets.



A History Of Violence

Facts and Figures

Run time: 96 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th September 2005

Box Office USA: $31.4M

Box Office Worldwide: $60.3M

Budget: $32M

Distributed by: New Line Cinema

Production compaines: DC Comics, New Line Cinema, BenderSpink

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 180 Rotten: 27

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Tom Stall, as Edie Stall, as Sarah Stall, as Jack Stall, as Richie Cusack, as Carl Fogerty, as Sheriff Sam Carney, as Leland, Greg Bryk as Billy, Kyle Schmid as Bobby, Sumela Kay as Judy Danvers, as Mick, Deborah Drakeford as Charlotte, Bill MacDonald as Frank Mulligan, as Charlie Roarke

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

Advertisement
The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.