Saturday, 6 March 2010

A History of Violence


A History of Violence; Thriller-drama, USA/ Germany, 2005; D: David Cronenberg, S: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes, Heidi Hayes, Ed Harris, Aiden Devine, William Hurt

Tom Stall is a quiet restaurant owner in a small, quiet provincial town. His lives with his wife Edie, son Jack and daughter Sarah. When one evening two criminals storm into his restaurant, he shoots and kills them in self-defence. Afterwards, he becomes an unwilling media-star and a mysterious mafia boss Fogarty shows up. He claims Tom is actually Joey Cusack, a former killer who just changed his identity. As Fogarty tries to forcefully deport him from his house, Tom kills him and his associates. Then he admits to his family that he really was a killer once, but that he has changed now and just wants to live a normal life. He is brought to the mansion of his brother, mobster Richie, who tries to kill him, but he kills him. Returning home, his family accepts his past.

One of of the most hyped and talked about films of 2005, drama "A History of Violence" is one of the better, more normal films by cult director David Cronenberg, whose screenwriter Josh Olsen here forced him to take a more complex-dramatic approach than he was used to. Just as the (refreshingly direct) title suggests, it is a haunting essay about a man who wants to get away from violence (and his violent past) and just live a normal, peaceful family life, but it isn't as easy as that: the violence just keeps coming back again and again, like a curse. There is only 10 % of violence in the actual film, but it has such a dramatic effect on the other 90 % of the story that it always seems intriguing, whereas Viggo Mortensen again showed his talent in the demanding dramatic role of Tom Stall.

At first, "History" portrays the main protagonist's quiet life: he is a quiet restaurant owner and enjoys small pleasures of life, like when his wife Edie (great Maria Bello) surprises him when she enters the room dressed as a cheerleader to sleep with him, jumping on him and jokingly shouting: "Gooooo Wildcats!" The things start to heat up when it is revealed he was a killer once, but now wants to move on. Cronenberg and Olsen wisely show how violence is present in almost all layers of social life, not only in mobsters who visit Tom, but also in the form of school bullies who constantly tease Tom's son Jack: the way he tries to remain a pacifist while the teasing doesn't stop (he even jokes when he says these words to the bully: "OK, now you established your Alpha male status and my unworthiness, so beating me would be pointless, wouldn't it?") is tragic and very thought provoking. Some moments seem staged, stiff or clumsy - for instance, the sole situation where two criminals storm the restaurant could have been a potentially great Hitchcockian moment, but it ended too soon - but those are minor complaints. Some also complained about the too cliched action towards the end, but the film achieved a lot. Bello and William Hurt (who appears for 9 minutes at the end) both won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, whereas the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA.

Grade:++

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