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A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE by David Cronenberg

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Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello - A History Of Violence Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) runs a little diner in a small town in Indiana, is married to a beautiful wife (Maria Bello) who is still deeply in love with him after years of marriage and has a well-adapted (if a bit nerdy) son (Ashton Holmes) and a cute little daughter (Heidi Hayes). When two armed robbers threaten to kill one of his employees, nice Tom explodes into action and kills them both, making him hero of the day in the small city. He tries to pretend nothing special happened, but his picture is all over the newspapers and on TV. Before long a mafia-henchman from Philadelphia shows up (Ed Harris), calling Tom ‘Joey’ and claiming to know him from a less peaceful past in Philadelphia. Tom insists it’s a mix-up, but Carl Fogarty and his hardmen won’t leave him and his family alone, and the situation escalates into brutal violence …

The acting is flawless, but the plot (based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke) is thin and hardly engaging. The outbursts of violence are quick, brutal, ugly (no stylish slo-mo) and sickening, matched only by the sickeningly sugary perfect family life of the Stalls before violence and fear intrude into their cute small-town bliss.
So the movie tells us that violence is brutal, ugly, affects family life negatively and can’t be easily put aside once one has resorted to it (we already knew that) – but that’s the end of it.

And the film is over just when it gets really interesting. The impact of violence, fear and mistrust on family life is somewhat explored in two contrasting sex scenes (the first one playful and affectionate, the later one brutal and intense) and when son Jack batters the school bully, but we get just the tiniest glimpse of what will happen after the truth is revealed and the violence is over – can love prevail over fear, distrust and hurt feelings – or is it destined to perish?

3 Responses to “A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE by David Cronenberg”

  1. Pacze Moj Says:

    I agree — thin plot’s not good enough to make a better-than-average thriller and not nearly enough depth to make an engaging “art” film.

    The character of the son is interesting, though. It’s unexplored, but where does his ability for violence come from?

  2. itsvery Movie Review - independent film reviews » MUNICH by Steven Spielberg Says:

    […] This is Steven Spielberg’s most “unspielbergian” film so far. No sentimentalities, no final carthasis, no heros. MUNICH is even more powerful than SCHINDLER’S LIST because it doesn’t have villains and victims and doesn’t take sides. It’s just people who do what their country demands them to do and what they think they have to do, and losing something invaluable on their way – their very soul. Is it a political film? Yes, because it covers real events and asks fundamental questions that are as current today as they were 30 years ago. How far can or must a government go to protect it’s people? Is there a justification for killing people? And does it do any good? The film doesn’t give the answers. But much more than a political film, it’s a human film. It shows how thin the layer of civilization is, how easily and impalpable it is removed, and what happens to people once this layer is removed – and it ain’t pretty. MUNICH is everything that Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE should have been and couldn’t achieve. Uncomfortable, unnerving, animating to think about politics current and past, the world, and life itself – essential viewing. […]

  3. itsvery Movie Review Blog - Independent Film Reviews » EASTERN PROMISES by David Cronenberg Says:

    […] David Cronenberg doesn’t so much tell a story, but lets Anna/Naomi Watts and the audience take a brief glimpse into another world – the dangerous and violent world of the (Russian) mafia, where a strict code is being followed – and the punishment for breaking the code is death. In a world of crime, drugs, prostitution and rivaling clans, loyalty is much in demand, but no guarantee for a long life – a loyal henchman will be sacrificed as unscrupulously as any outsider threatening the safety of the mafia, and the subaltern is probably already scheming to take over the position of his boss. These are not people the average person is – or should be – in contact with, and Nikolai himself gives Anna the good advice “Stay away from people like me”. And of course Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from showing the ugly side of this world and it’s violence – briefly, like in A History Of Violence, but shockingly intense and effective, as you would expect from the master of body horror. The instantly classic fight sequence – Viggo Mortensen, nude in the bathhause, battles two armed killers – tops the Bourne-fights and is sure to set a new standard for action films. […]

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