Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
Director : David Cronenberg
Screenplay : John Olson
Rating : R for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use.
David Cronenberg is a true artist. His films are the kind that you either instantly hate or instantly love. His vision is always uncompromising and almost always bleak and depressing. He focuses on the dark core of humanity, questioning the reality his characters inhabit, whether it is the life they live or the world they live it in. Brutal, dark, original and thought-provoking, Cronenberg’s vision is just as vivid in one of his most recent succeses “A History of Violence”.
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a model citizen. He lives in a small town, he’s married, has two kids, a cozy household, and owns a modestly succesfull diner. The peaceful life he so much enjoys is torn apart when two psychopatic killers attempt to rob his diner. He guns both of them down with extreme prejudice, turning him into a local hero. His celebrity unfortunately extends beyond the borders of the small town, attracting unwanted attention from Philadelphia mobster Richie Cusack (William Hurt) who sends Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and a couple of henchmen to bring back Tom who they believe is Richies’s brother, a former assassin for the mob who dissapeared a long time ago. Fogarty and his crew shake things up in the small peaceful rural living while Tom himself must bring back some of his past bad habits in order to save his new life, and the life of his family.
While more accesible than his past films, this is still Cronenberg at his best. A psychologicaly tormented lead male character, borderlining split personality, who denies his life as hellraiser Joey Cusack, clearly a psychopatic killer back in the day, while maintaining his current identity as family man Tom Stall, under the pressure of his violent past coming back to haunt him. Definetly right up Cronenberg’s alley. What’s also interesting is how Joey/Tom’s history of violence is reflected on his family in the way their psychology bends almost as if organically reacting to the new identity of the family head. Tom’s deceit and the thought of his criminal past has devastating effects on the family psyche, provoking unusual behaviour. Their adolescent son explodes with violent rage against the local bully in an act of rebellion motivated by his loss of the male role model he identified with, Tom and his wife engage in very rough sex on the staircase (borderline S&M), venting their frustrations, a mix of love and hate, right after she just lied to the local sheriff about Tom’s true identity, herself deeply conflicted about accepting this new man in her life. All of it underlines deep changes in their lives, with the new Tom being the root of all evils, unleashed on their unsuspecting innocence. He’s both the problem and the key to solving their dilemma. The question is : will they now accept him for who he really is, which will probably mean a new beginning ? Standard issue with stories like this, but Cronenberg doesn’t go for the cliches even if the solution to Tom’s problems is easy to forsee. In the end, the only way to ensure his quiet life is to violently kill his past. Now, usually this is a paradox very familiar to action films, but Cronenberg doesn’t do Arnold Schwarzenegger films, so the big climax is a dialogue between Tom and Richie (fantastic line delivery by William Hurt, nominated for an Oscar), which of course ends in violence, but is basically built on tension and character motivations rather than nonsensical shoot’em up.
Since violence is the foundation of this film, it certainly won’t dissapoint gore hounds. Cronenber himself is a crafty director when it comes to blood and guts. “A History of Violence” depicts hardcore violence intentionally framed in gross close-ups and carefully choreographed. He does not glorify it, but instead throws it in our faces in all its horrifying details. This enhances the effect of the story in a way, since it’s all about the violence in these character’s life, how it grows within our society, and acts as a catalyst for our inner demons.
So what is essentially a thriller, pushes the lines of conventional cinema with style and subliminal usage of violence, allowing the viewer to form their own conclusions while being entertained by the perfect acting and tense atmosphere. A must-see.