Tag Archives: 2005

A History of Violence (2005)


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.

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Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)


assaultonprecinct13pic

8

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, John Leguizamo
Director: Jean-François Richet
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Rating : R for strong violence and language throughout, and for some drug content.

This 2005 film is a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter classic, produced by the same people who brought us “Training Day”, and it was certainly a surprise on a market saturated with frame-by-frame copycat remakes like 2006’s “The Omen”, an uninspired carbon copy of the original featuring improved visuals and a bad Gregory Peck imitation by Liev Schreiber. “Assault on Precinct 13” delivers unusual signs of intelligence, scarce enough to warrant its B flick status, but enough to keep one awake.

In the original, Bishop was the fearless “sheriff”, forced to protect his precinct from scores of cop-hating thugs. Now, the Bishop of this film is Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), an extremely dangerous criminal (the old Napoleon Wilson character, this time more street), caught after murdering an undercover cop in a church (that’s just how badass he is). The “sheriff” is a Sgt. Roenick (Ethan Hawke), former undercover officer, now hiding behind a desk, pumping himself full of alcohol and pills to forget about an unfortunate undercover stint which ended with two of his colleagues getting killed because of his bad call. The 13th precinct (this time actually called 13) is still being closed down (right on New Year’s Eve), which once again means not enough police and not enough guns. The prisoner bus transporting Bishop and a handful of other prisoners is rerouted to precinct 13 because of a higway accident. With all plot requirements in place, the siege is ready to commence.

The big change from the ’76 version is that the attackers this time are corrupt cops, scared that if Bishop gets to the trial he’ll rat them all out. So it’s clear that not one of the people inside the precinct are supposed to make it out alive, as the leader of the bad guys Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) overstates, they have to “put them all down, without pause, without regard”. Roenick decides to release and arm the prisoners and work together in a fragile alliance in order to survive. I would have to say this version adds more to the police and criminals fighting side by side idea. There’s always a sense of tensions added to it. Then there’s also the irony of the criminals helping the cops, while bad cops try to kill them all. While the original was a sort of urban western story concerned with building atmosphere, the remake feels like “Die Hard” in an abandoned precinct concerned more about building a traditional plot with twists and cliches, sometimes annoyingly predictable, yet at times surprising. Jean-Francois Richet seems aware of the constraints of the genre and manipulates these cliches in his favor, although one of the most annoying ones is that of the traitor within the precinct. It’s annoying because it’s so painfully obvious, it’s like there’s a tag that spells “traitor” on him. Maybe it was supposed to divert attention since traitors are rarely this obvious, but no, not here. Still, there is surprise in the way the characters are killed off, even though the film dispenses of them almost in slasher fashion, it’s still less obvious who’s going to bite the bullet, and that’s a big plus. Also, this time there’s the perspective of the bad guys, polarised by a dominant villainous figure, which turns the siege in a strategic confrontation of sorts.

Although I’m an admirer of Carpenter’s work, in the case of “Assault on Precinct 13”, I preffer the 2005 version, although the potato score differs very little. It’s a solid action film, much less a remake, but a complete reconstruction with the original as the foundation, not as the blueprint. There’s more action, a solid, well selected cast, an entertaining plot with some nice touches and an interesting directorial vision that in the end serves the same ideas that made the original a B classic.