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History of Violence, A
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by David Cornelius

"This one hits hard and hits deep."
4 stars

There’s something off in the early scenes of David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence.” Something’s not quite right here, something feels a little peculiar. And I don’t mean the scenes with the killers - although in a way, they, too, behave a bit too curiously, the way they move, they way they talk to each other. I mean the scenes after that initial introduction, the ones in which we then meet the main characters, inhabitants of the cozy town of Millbrook, Indiana. Nothing feels real here. Everything’s exaggerated, but only ever so slightly, barely noticeable, so much so that it’s almost subliminal.

What we have in these opening scenes is a bit of small town cliché, with the politeness and the happiness and the tough kids in school wearing their letterman jackets, and it’s such an elevated reality that it feels like a dream. The American dream, in fact - here is not rural America as it is, but as it is imagined.

In these early moments, we meet Tom, an average Midwesterner, loving husband, father of two, unassuming owner of the local diner. Tom is played by Viggo Mortensen, and it’s quite notable that even after becoming such a star thanks to the “Lord of the Rings” films, Mortensen remains completely believable as the everyman. In the underrated “Hidalgo,” he let his aw-shucks-ma’am charm shine, and in “Violence,” he plays it up even more, allowing the audience to believe that this impossibly handsome movie star is instead just the fella who serves your coffee.

This is just one level of a remarkable performance from Mortensen, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. I should mention how Maria Bello plays Tom’s wife, and how the kids are played by Ashton Holmes and Heidi Hayes; all three add to the gee-whiz happy simplicity of this family, their home life seeming unbearably quaint. The casting of young Hayes is perhaps the punctuation mark on the whole idea here - with no offense meant to whom I’m sure is a lovely young lady, the platinum blonde cutesiness of the young girl borders on the creepy, as she comes off as a magnified version of what the ideal child should be.

The subconsciously unsettling simplicity of these characters now in place, we’re allowed to watch as this literal American dream collides with ugly reality, the killers from the first scene rolling into Millbrook, looking to stick up the diner. But Tom’s quick to the defense. Too quick, in fact, as he manages to take down both gunmen in a flash, an act that makes him a hero but also raises the eyebrows of the mysterious Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who soon arrives in Millbrook claiming to know Tom.

From here, the story plays out like you think it will - we watch the problems unfold as Fogarty begins his harassment of Tom’s family, we wonder if Tom is the innocent he says he is - and yet, it refuses to play out like you think it will. Which sounds like a contradiction, so let me explain: in another film, the story would become an action extravaganza, or perhaps an average thriller, but here, with Cronenberg at the helm, it becomes a character study. It does not set out to thrill, but to ask questions. What does violence seen up close do to one, psychologically? How does a family react under such pressures? This is not a film concerned with the rough outlines of what people would do. This is one concerned with close details of how they would think, how they would feel. (Consider a scene in which Tom must rush home before the bad guys get there. It’s a typical suspense moment, yes, but there’s such an underlying fear pushed forward by inward connection with the characters that it plays out in an entirely different way than it would have in any other movie.)

Indeed, while the film is adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the screenplay, from Josh Olsen, merely uses the source material as a launching point, breaking off entirely from the novel before the second act. As such, it’s a great improvement. While I won’t say what the novel covers (to avoid those dreaded spoilers), I will say that the movie chooses to avoid such matter, which touches on genre formula, and instead focus on the immediate reactions of Tom’s family.

It’s the right choice, forcing the violence to affect the viewer in a far sharper manner. Cronenberg is unflinching in how he shows the pure ugliness of death and violence, but he’s also careful not to go too far, to push these moments into titillation. We see violence unfold naturally, without embellishment, and as such, we get a more natural picture. Even in a scene such as the son’s outburst at the school bully, which, of course, involves no death and little blood, we’re deeply affected; the filmmakers walk the line in showing us violence that feels necessary at the time, feels unnecessary in hindsight, and feels unshakably brutal at all times.

The film than becomes a visceral experience. Even the movie’s two sex scenes (despite both running a bit too long, upsetting the rhythm of the story, yet both are essential to the story) get under our skin and evoke deep, gut reactions. They put us in the minds of the characters, which, as things unfold here, becomes an ugly place to be.

But I come back to Mortensen, who holds everything else together. If for no other reason, watch “Violence” to see and hear the nuances of his performance. There’s something he’s doing with his voice in this movie that gets to the character in such a subtle yet important way, little mannerisms that reveal secrets - or hide them. For all of Cronenberg’s precise direction, for all the right notes hit by Harris, Holmes, and William Hurt in a brilliant late-arrival role, for the bravery of Olsen’s screenplay not to work itself out in such expectedly simple ways, it’s Mortensen’s performance that slaps us the hardest in this movie. With the smallest of moves, the most understated of plays, he connects us to Tom in ways few actors could. And it’s this connection that allows “Violence” to run so very deep, to shake us to the bone, to wake us up and get us asking questions.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12761&reviewer=392
originally posted: 09/30/05 23:25:33
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User Comments

4/15/20 Charles Tatum It’s like someone stole the entire second act of the film 2 stars
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
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
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 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
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  23-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



Directed by
  David Cronenberg

Written by
  Josh Olson

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

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