A History Of Violence (2005), or A Man On The Verge

12 09 2009

Hello, all! Another day, another review! Today I watched a movie from an artist who always surprises me, David Cronenberg. The wonderful thing about Cronenberg is that he’s not a one-trick pony. He’s not all about the weird and the macabre, although when he does it he does it well. He always brings something different to the table, and today’s feature is something quite different for him, not to mention American mainstream audiences, upon who this film was released to the confusion of some. It’s a subtle crime drama/mystery about a man who isn’t all he seems to be, and it makes for some GREAT cinema trying to figure out what he is.

The man in question is Tom Stall, owner of a cozy diner in Bumfuck, Whereverthehell. He’s a kind, generous family man who really has no enemies in the world. Everything is peaceful in his comfortable small-town life until one night, when a pair of robbers decide to roll up at Tom’s business and attempt to rob him. But it appears that the felonious duo messed with precisely the wrong man, because Tom straight-up murders them in the defense of his customers and his shop. The police arrive, onlookers begin to talk, and quite suddenly he becomes a big news story. It brings he and his family a bit of new-found attention, and with that attention brings a strange visit from a man who claims to know Tom from before he moved to Nowhere, USA. He has quite a different story to tell about our man Tom, a story involving gangsters, murder, and connections in Philadelphia. Tom denies all this, telling his family and friends that the man must have the wrong guy. But still he persists, and it quickly becomes clear that he wants Tom to return to Philadelphia and talk to his brother. Is Tom who he says he is? Will Tom go to Philadelphia? What will happen if he doesn’t?

It’s a very simple mystery wrapped in the claustrophobic blanket of family drama. It plays with the very idea of family, and that implied trust that comes from relationships and blood ties that hits very hard on an emotional level. Knowing someone is such a relative idea when one thinks about the entire spectrum of human life, so in the end, is anyone completely knowable? A History of Violence seeks to reconcile this idea with the ties that bind us the deepest in this world.

Tom Stall is played by the enigmatic Viggo Mortensen like a true champ. He keeps his poker face through the entire film, leaving you guessing every minute. He seems so likable, but there’s that lingering doubt that he could really be someone else. Maria Bello scores big-time as his wife Edie. Suffering and confused, she doesn’t know how to take all this information about the man she thought she knew. Her demeanor while she tries to keep her family together is resilient and strong, and Bello impresses me with her character’s inner strength. And Ed Harris plays the scarred weirdo harassing Tom, calling himself Carl. He’s a total schmuck, and I think Harris went a little overboard trying to make him skeevy, but a good villain overall. His antagonistic and inquisitive approach to speaking with Tom makes me very anxious though, in a good way.

No freaky living guns, psychics, or moaning televisions for Cronenberg this time. He relies solely on the strength of his actors and the latent tension in the script adapted from the highly lauded graphic novel of the same name. This time around the camera, usually dynamic on a colossal level, takes on the role of a quiet visitor in an unsettled home. He peeks around corners, sits near staircases, and closes in like a family member to get the shots he wants. It’s an organic quality to his style that I have never seen before. For those of you who want something a little more action-oriented, he has plenty in his oeuvre to satisfy you, but here we are faced with dialog, questions, and brief-but-satisfying moments of startlingly real violence.

A History of Violence is a great movie, if you’re willing to let it wash over you. The movie is an experience in and of itself, with very strong performances by select cast members. It has elements of a number of different genres here, but at the heart of it all I found it to be an intriguing mystery, although this movie will fare far better with repeat viewings than most mysteries will simply because of all the other elements to it. Go check it out; I’d love to hear what you think of this picture. Me, personally, I give it 9 Nowhere, USAs out of 10! A high recommendation!

Check me out tomorrow, where I’ll have a review of Run Ronnie Run! Until then!!!