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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


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History of Violence, A
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Cronenberg's finest and most provocative film since 'Videodrome'"
5 stars

In the past, the films of David Cronenberg have tended to focus on characters who are evolving into a new stage of being–either literally (everything in his filmography up to “The Fly”) or metaphorically (everything afterwards). In “A History of Violence,” his extraordinary new film, he instead looks at someone who has already evolved from what he once was but finds himself haunted by the memory of the man that he used to be and the results are just as twisted and terrifying as anything that he has ever given us before.

Viggo Mortensen, in a performance that should finally serve notice to those that know him simply from the “Lord of the Rings” movies that he is as gifted and inventive as any actor working today, stars as Tom Stall, an ordinary man who lives in the quiet town of Millbrook, Indiana with his perfect wife, former cheerleader Edie (Maria Bello), and two perfect kids, shy and bookish teen Jack (Ashton Holmes) and adorable blonde daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). For Tom, it is a bucolic existence–so much so that when Sarah has a bad dream about monsters, he can tell her that there are no such things as monsters and sound as if he means it. Of course, there are monsters in the world and two of them–a pair of spree-killers (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) whom we have already seen calmly walking through the aftermath of their latest motel massacre–wander into the diner that Tom runs and violate its homey atmosphere (it even features a sign advertising “Friendly Service”) by instigating their latest crime. To the surprise of everyone, Tom snaps into action and with terrifying ease, he literally destroys both intruders as quickly and casually as he might offer to top off your cup of joe.<

Because he has killed a couple of unabashedly bad people while successfully defending both people (though, significantly, not his family) and property, Tom becomes a media sensation and the diner is jammed with people who want to get a glimpse of the hero. (None seem to have any qualms about dining in the same place where we have seen a man’s head reduced to hamburger.) One day, a couple of creepy strangers, led by Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a person who would send chills down your spine even if he didn’t have one dead eye staring blankly from his head. Fogarty claims that he knows Tom but not as Tom–he remembers him as one Crazy Joey Cusack from Philadelphia, a violent mob thug who took his eye, killed a lot of people (some of whom he shouldn’t have touched) and then disappeared. Tom tells him that he is mistaken and orders the men to leave. However, they keep popping up around town and when Edie tells Fogarty to get lost once and for all, he simply suggests that she ask Tom "how come he is so good at killing people.”

To say more would ruin many of the surprises that Cronenberg and writer Josh Olson (working from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke). All I will say is that there are a couple more confrontations that have ramifications for the entire family and when Tom tries to explain things, his truthfulness only pushes them further away from him. In desperation, Tom leaves in the middle of the night to drive up to Philadelphia himself in order to confront a person (William Hurt) who may know Tom better than he knows himself and who may hold the key to either his salvation or his doom.

Because most of the violence on display is incurred in the name of self-defense, some may read “A History of Violence” as an endorsement of such acts–when the law cannot protect an ordinary person (neither the ineffectual sheriff nor Edie, who works as a lawyer, can stop bad things from happening), it is up to that person to defend himself by any means necessary. Because those acts of violence only lead to more trouble for everyone (having been picked on by a bully at school for no apparent reason, Jack suddenly turns on him with a savage fury that lands the kid in the hospital and Jack with a suspension), some may read the film as a critique of the might-makes-right mindset that people use to justify everything from a neighborhood skirmish to a war in Iraq. The genius of Cronenberg’s work here is that he is able to acknowledge both positions and the feelings behind them while recognizing that the complexities of real life often overwhelm such cut-and-dried analysis. In this film, violence is never seen as anything other than brutal and deeply disturbing, he doesn’t overlook the simple fact that most people have the capacity for violence within them and to attempt to ignore that fact can have dire consequences as well.

Instead, he spends his time taking a look at the outer trappings of a nice “normal” existence and illustrates that can be just as strange and twisted as the unpleasant things that get hidden away. When we first glimpse Tom and his seemingly perfect demeanor and surroundings, they look and sound pleasant enough but once the darkness makes its appearance, it is impossible to look at them again in the same way. Even before the questions about Tom’s past begin to crop up, it is impossible to look at his bland, friendly face without thinking of the violence that he showed himself capable of. Once the violence extends to his house, what was once the homiest domicile imaginable seems as dark and sinister as your typical house of horrors. Even the bright sunlight that we see in the opening scene (if I am not mistaken, this is the first Cronenberg film to start off with a sunshiny day) takes on a different aura as the scene progresses.

Cronenberg also does an interesting thing with the performances as well. On the surface, Mortensen seems to be giving a straightforward and naturalistic performance, especially when seen in comparison to the more overtly stylized turns from Harris and Hurt as two men who have accepted their violent natures. As the film progresses, though, it becomes clear that Tom’s normal-guy persona is just as much of a stylized front–one all the scarier because it doesn’t appear to be a front. When Mortensen wants to show that Tom has embraced his dark side, he doesn’t resort to obvious tricks to illustrate the change. Whatever he does do, he transforms himself completely into someone who looks like Tom and sounds like Tom but who simply isn’t Tom. (This may be the first film in recent memory where the action scenes require just as much acting ability as the dramatic scenes.)

When “A History of Violence” premiered earlier this year at Cannes, many of those who wrote about it described it as the most accessible work of his entire career. At the time, this struck me as weird because part of the brilliance of such early works as “Shivers,” “The Brood,” “Scanners” and “The Fly” came from the way that he used the basic parameters of the horror genre (namely extreme forms of sex and violence) as a way of exploring serious subject matter (“The Brood” is perhaps the most powerful film on the emotional damage that a formerly loving couple can inflict on themselves and their children during a divorce-far more so than its more famous contemporary “Kramer Vs. Kramer”) in a commercially viable manner and it wasn’t until 1988's “Dead Ringers” that his work took a more esoteric turn. Now I am even more confused by those early descriptions because instead of the crass commercial sell-out that such comments imply, this is actually the most structurally, thematically, politically and emotionally complex work that he has given us since “Videodrome” and it may well be his most satisfying film since that earlier masterpiece. On every level, this is the work of a master filmmaker at the top of his form–a dark and dizzying exploration of the heart of darkness that beats within all of us that will force anyone who watches it to re-examine their own feelings regarding the subjects that it raises.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12761&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/23/05 00:11:32
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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&#9835;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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