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

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

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.