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Overall Rating
4.02

Awesome45.05%
Worth A Look: 28.57%
Just Average: 16.48%
Pretty Crappy: 3.3%
Sucks: 6.59%

16 reviews, 86 user ratings



History of Violence, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Nails everything."
5 stars

There's an temptation, when discussing movies like "Ghost World", "The Road to Perdition", and now "A History of Violence", to deliberately omit references to their "graphic fiction" roots (to use the newest term employed by people who don't want to use the phrase "comic book"). If you like the movie, you don't want to turn people off by having them immediately compare it to "Batman & Robin", or even the good examples of the spandex genre. Even if you like comics as a medium, and regularly gobble up as much autobiography and crime as brightly-colored action/adventure, you might just shrug and think, hell, I don't want to fight this battle again. And maybe you shouldn't; looking at the finished product, "A History of Violence" is an excellent movie regardless of the quality or form of its source material.

But, on closer examination, several of the qualities that make it unique appear to come directly from the graphic medium. Take the strikingly individual character designs, like Ed Harris's ruined eye or the pair of thugs whose hotel robbery opens the movie. Consider the graphic violence, a bit less stylized than what you'd find in Sin City, but still willing to linger on the blood & guts because it makes a striking visual. Notice how some sequences play out without words, while the dialogue is quick and punchy, like it has to share a three-square-inch panel with the action. None of these techniques are unique to comics, of course, but the look and feel does set it apart from other films.

After a quick credits sequence where a pair of killers rob the motel they stayed in - and we get the impression that these aren't the first bodies they've left behind - we meet Tom Stall, a happily married father of two who, though he didn't grow up in the small town where his diner is located, seems pretty universally respected and liked. He's got a beautiful wife (Maira Bello), an adorable daughter (Heidi Hayes), and a son who's no more trouble than any teenager (Ashton Holmes). His quiet life is shattered when two familiar faces come to the diner at closing time - and he does not go down easily like their previous targets. The media attention brings gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) to town with claims that Stall isn't who he says he is at all.

That's when the filmmakers really starts to go to work. They've thrown a handful of shocking images at the audience by this point, but once Fogarty enters the scene, it's time to start stripping layers away from Stall, revealing a disturbing hidden identity. We see Stall try to rebuild his cocoon, but trouble keeps coming, and the beast has to keep coming out, and soon he's alienating everyone around him. Director David Cronenberg is relentless here, keeping the violence ugly but not throwing so much at the audience as to create numbness. The spots between the action don't really let up, either, as we watch the tension leave cracks in Stall's façade, and the tension spreads to his family like some kind of disease.

All sorts of credit to Viggo Mortensen here; he makes Tom a man of few words, but the lines on his face are such that he doesn't have to speak to get his point across. His body language is also exceptional; when the violence breaks out, he moves smoothly and efficiently, and as the film goes on, his stance changes from lanky comfort to tension to a frightening cockiness. Maria Bello is as dependable as always as Edie Stall, making it clear she's able to handle most situations but that this horror may be a little much. The gangsters are the ones who really get to take the script into their teeth, with Ed Harris's Fogarty projecting pure menace with only the thinnest veneer of politeness while William Hurt's Richie Cusack has clearly moved up in the world without forgetting his roots.

There are a lot of individual elements in A History of Violence that may be faults in other movies, but all seem to pull together here. Josh Olson's screenplay makes a couple jumps that seem pretty big; would Stall's actions make the national news and attract Fogarty's attention? Is the last act a little too glib and self-consciously witty, after all the efforts to make the first hour fairly grounded? Is the little girl just a little too cute? Individually, these may be issues, but here they pull together. History probably won't be considered come the awards season - it's the spiritual descendant of the B crime movies of the forties and has no pretense of being more - but it's great, visceral filmmaking, hard-boiled without feeling exploitive.

The only way to make it a better example of its genre, I figure, would be to resurrect Edward G. Robinson and give him a part. Until such time as that's possible, though this is about as good as it gets.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12761&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/02/05 10:04:39
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell solid film cast is great 4 stars
5/09/15 stanley welles a gripping, cogently written and admirably acted work 4 stars
1/24/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Hitman becomes cook in diner. You want fries with that? 4 stars
12/04/08 P. Yew Someone in the theatre I was in farted and stunk up the whole place. 1 stars
11/25/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
6/10/08 PAUL SHORTT A FLAWED AND UNIMPRESSIVE MEDITATION OF VIOLENCE 1 stars
1/20/08 Wendell O. Maness John Gotti was a wimpy loser- wormfood now! Ha ha! 3 stars
10/28/07 mr. mike Better than expected. Ed Harris is amazing 4 stars
7/28/07 john anthony Loses its way in the last 1/3. Should have stayed in Indiana 3 stars
7/20/07 Harry Cronenberg is the worst movie maker in the world 1 stars
7/20/07 Jennifer What th fok was that! Sheer nonsense! Absolutely pointless! 1 stars
7/06/07 AnnieG Much too predictable; too little plot. 3 stars
5/22/07 R.W. Welch Doesn't quite ring true at times but shows some style. B- 4 stars
5/17/07 ES Enjoyable, depicts sex and violence on a satisfying scale 4 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold People rightly say that it's "multi-layered"; but damnit, aren't all films? 3 stars
1/25/07 kris It is a bit naive and overrated. But obviously tricked many, including pro film critics. 3 stars
12/16/06 Trey Thought provoking and truly dramatic. Great movie. 5 stars
12/14/06 T. McGregor This movie draws you in then implicates the audience in the gruesome violence. Brilliant. 5 stars
12/05/06 Adrian A masterpiece. Nails everything. 5 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Dark and troubling. Terriffic acting across the board. 4 stars
8/17/06 Seanboy A fantastic meditation on violence in our culture, superb performances 5 stars
8/13/06 Cosmic Conundrum Total Crap. Exhibits characteristics of a badly made Hindi Film. 1 stars
7/20/06 Frank Rountree Total crap says it all. Doesn't live up to the hype. 1 stars
7/18/06 Reklc Great acting, graphic violence- so what if the story is a bit bogus. 5 stars
7/16/06 mark incredible-leaves much to the viewer's interpretation and implication 5 stars
7/12/06 ad "The meaning" is way overblown. Shooting spree with no big surprises 2 stars
7/03/06 seldomscene do not read the reviews, it gives the plot away,watche it cold 5 stars
5/04/06 Indrid Cold A metaphor for America losing its innocence? That probably gives David too much credit. 3 stars
4/30/06 Agent Sands One of the most well-made films of 2005...or 2006. 5 stars
4/17/06 Jessica not bad, abit over rated, didnt like the ending , but ok for a night in with a pizza. 4 stars
4/09/06 Jung Texican Grossly overrated. "Experts" again assign profound meaning to an empty film - top 20 worst 1 stars
3/28/06 mike if a coffe shop gets robbed, don't be a hero or u lose ur secret identity! 3 stars
3/27/06 Y2mckay good acting, good action, but way WAY over-hyped 4 stars
3/20/06 Jon Makes you think... and awesome acting 5 stars
3/20/06 Peter The whole thing is as awkward and empty as the first sex scene. 2 stars
3/18/06 Monday Morning Nothing special about this flick. Very missable. 3 stars
3/16/06 matt overhyped, not as interesting as people say but still worthwhile. 4 stars
3/14/06 Rocky I really dug this flick, not a wasted moment in it and very thought provoking 4 stars
3/14/06 Shannon Robles cronenberg does it again! 5 stars
3/13/06 john bale Never overcomes its source material a comic, its too over the top to be taken seriously. 3 stars
3/10/06 jack different but doesn;t keep the interest up 4 stars
3/10/06 matthew smith a very impressive film, great performances 5 stars
3/10/06 Sumixam Not as good as they say but kills 1.5hrs ok 4 stars
2/20/06 Agent Sands CRONENBERG'S GREATEST MOVIE YET. POSSIBLY THE BEST OF 2005. 5 stars
1/19/06 ASC Excellent 5 stars
12/17/05 ownerofdajoint A frightening portrayal of a trapped man's inability to escape his predetermined fate 5 stars
12/04/05 Jeff Anderson David Cronenberg's strongest film to date & brilliant! Mortensen & Bello are OUTSTANDING!!! 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Cronenberg is a modern miracle. He's nothing short of genious. 5 stars
11/20/05 qemm the plot worth of a 70s kung-fu movie... movie about nothing 3 stars
11/08/05 Alice very very overrated, nothing new and even boring. 1 stars
11/07/05 K. Sear Reasonable but not as good as everyone is claiming. 4 stars
10/27/05 Aaron Smith Good film, fine performances by Bello and Mortensen. 5 stars
10/26/05 TOYAN DAVIS GOOD MOVIE TO ILLUSTRATE THE POWER OF LOVE 3 stars
10/26/05 deadwiz Pretty decent flick, pretty graphic too! 4 stars
10/25/05 Sean Worst movie Ive ever seen. I know NO ONE who liked this 1 stars
10/25/05 Nick_Voro Part boring, cliche, and captivating. In the end a very interesting film but very overrated 4 stars
10/21/05 Christine FIdance Very glad to see Cronenberg back on his game, excellent acting, great movie! 5 stars
10/19/05 Sarah The most trite, poorly executed and absolutely pointless film I've seen. 1 stars
10/19/05 B-dog Bad acting,depressing, fake 1 stars
10/18/05 jeff good acting, simple story, bad ending, loved it 5 stars
10/17/05 Marc Bauman Excellent, unsettling 5 stars
10/17/05 Cinemaniac On the surface, it might look like a thriller, but it's really a meditation on identity... 5 stars
10/14/05 ROY L. CAIN JR. The legacy of Charles Bronson lives on. 5 stars
10/12/05 Koitus Good movie; better than most of the other cr@p that is out there! 4 stars
10/12/05 spielberg Very violent movie, psychologic plot just too thin 2 stars
10/11/05 Elizabeth S Pretty brutal. Actually quite a simplistic story but told well. 4 stars
10/10/05 b compact, no wasted film, excellent 5 stars
10/10/05 Ole Man Bourbon Cronenberg's worst. Ridiculous story, Viggo is a total dullard. Why the hype? 2 stars
10/09/05 bill crappy, pretentious, unlikely. no one in the theater I was in liked it, one bit. 1 stars
10/09/05 Agent Sands Perfect. A masterpiece in all departments. Timeless, timeless, timeless. 5 stars
10/07/05 kanye excellent film - could have been helped by a better ending. 4 stars
10/06/05 Louise McChrystal a little too much violence, but still a very well played movie 4 stars
10/06/05 Steve Michaud Wow. Simply... wow. 5 stars
10/04/05 ASF Overrated, cartoonish, lacks depth. Director was not up to the material. 3 stars
10/03/05 Elizabeth S Good performances, powerful, brutal film 4 stars
10/03/05 isawthismovie good idea for a movie but very poor execution of the idea 2 stars
10/02/05 laura gonzalez one of the best movies of the year! 5 stars
10/02/05 Patti Hughes I love this film twice. It is wonderful 5 stars
10/01/05 viggo mortenson did you people work on this movie? i can go online or on oxygen to find near porn whenever. 2 stars
10/01/05 astrotart Primo acting with a great story with just enough sex, violence and drama.. 5 stars
9/30/05 Suzz well-acted but predictable reformed mobster film less the final scene 4 stars
9/30/05 Kristina Williams That second sex scene....WHOA. 5 stars
9/30/05 The Criddler Cronenberg = Filmmaking God 5 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Cronenberg's superb, transgressive meditation on violence's multiplicity of forms; graphic 5 stars
9/25/05 James Laczkowski Best Film of 2005 so far. Riveting, disturbing and suprisingly funny. Hurt rules 5 stars
9/12/05 Alex Brisbourne Possibly Cronenberg's best: great acting, good script, violence is a little much! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  23-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  09-Mar-2006


Directed by
  David Cronenberg

Written by
  Josh Olson

Cast
  Viggo Mortensen
  Maria Bello
  William Hurt
  Ed Harris
  Ashton Holmes
  Heidi Hayes



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