Monday, 17 September 2007
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
A History of Violence (2005) dir. David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt
Ok, when “A History of Violence” came out, I intensely disliked the film. There was a tone that I just didn’t get. Everything from the acting, to the music, the editing, the plot confounded me and drove me bonkers. But I was in the very small minority. Did I miss something? It was universally acclaimed and one of the best reviewed films of the year. Upon second viewing, it’s finally sunk in and I've been able to enjoy the film. Though it still doesn’t rise to the quality of “The Fly”, or “Dead Ringers” it’s a quality mainstream effort from the Canadian master.
The film opens with a piece of misdirection. We watch the slow movements of two psychotic killers who have just murdered a motel owner. They walk around the outside of the motel, slowly get into their car, light their cigarettes and discuss their movements of the day. Cronenberg lingers on them for so long and gives them so much screen time we expect them to be main characters for the rest of the film. Then we meet Americana personified Tom Stall, who lives the quiet life of a diner-owner in a small Indiana town, with his wife Edie (Maria Bello), teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) and daughter Sarah. The psychotics collide with Stall when they attempt to rob and pillage his diner. Tom fights back and shoots both killers dead with expert skill. Tom becomes the hero of the town and makes the news all around the country.
Back to the misdirection of the opening scene...on my first viewing I couldn’t reconcile importance of the lengthy and carefully directed opening with the psychotics’ sudden disappearance from the story. In fact, I still don’t understand Cronenberg’s motivation here, but it irks me less the second time ‘round.
Back to the story…one day some more nefarious bad men show up at the diner, one of whom is Carl Fogarty, a creepy and intimidating Ed Harris. Fogarty thinks Tom is a gangster from Philly named Joey Kusak. Tom denies it all, but Fogarty is persistent and follow him and his family around the town until he’s forced to confront Tom directly with threats of violence. When faced with the threat on his family Tom fights back and again beats down the mobsters like a rapid dog unleashed and unmuzzled. Tom comes clean with his family about his sordid past as a ruthless gangster. In order to continue his new life with his family he must confront his past and face off against his brother Richie (William Hurt) who now runs a crime family in Philadelphia.
Cronenberg executes the mainstream elements of the story well. The plot is simple and uncomplicated. It’s about a man looking to go straight, cleanse his soul, and atone for past sins. The film is a statement about the attraction and simplicity of violence. It’s an easy way out of confrontations. Tom’s son experiences the same feelings as his father has. He is pushed around by a student and one day lashes out and beats down the taunting bully. Tom’s wife is at first shocked by the revelations of her husband’s past, but then gives in to its carnal attractions in a domestic fight turned sex scene on the stairs.
Cronenberg leaves us wondering about his back story though. Not even the brotherly bond of love can quell the violence between Tom and Richie. So what could have caused such an irreparable rift? Why, at the first sign of his brother, does Richie suddenly want him dead? There’s some deep emotional issues that needed to be mined in order for “A History of Violence” to be truly profound and rise above just a mainstream film.
Perhaps this is why I initially disliked the film. I expect so much more psychological complexities to Cronenberg’s characters. In “A History of Violence” everything is up front, in your face and simple.
Buy it here: A History of Violence (New Line Platinum Series)
Here's the opening: