MovieHype00617 - A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Right Now, think of the worst things you’ve ever done. The things you never got caught for. (Aren’t those really worse than the ones you did?) Are you still that same person? Did you leave behind behavior that you really couldn’t explain to others if you tried? Is there still shame? Do you still think of the boy once were, the girl you’ve left behind? What if that past came back to where you are now, and smacked you in the face?
Flip it on end. What if you found out the man you love, the wife by your side, the mom, the dad who raised you weren’t who you thought they were. They had a past. A past they don’t talk about. A past they can’t talk about. They left it behind, moved on, made a new them. But it came back again, and now you know about it. Would you still love them?
Finally (before we get to the review), ask yourself one more question: how much violence would you be willing to unleash to protect what’s yours. Your family. Your life. Whoever “you” are now. Is there a place for violence, and if so, what is that place?
These are some of the questions director David Cronenberg asks in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Some of you may recall that Cronenberg is responsible for my least favorite movie of all time (a film so vile that I recommended it to friends for years on the theory that I shouldn’t be the only one suffering). All I can say is that me and Crony are now mates.
The story idea of a man with a past, trying to change is one of the oldest on record. That’s not a shot at the script; it’s a gold mine of opportunity for those willing to tell the tale well. One of my favorites is MUSIC BOX, which deals more with the daughter who finds out her dad was in the S.S. during the war. And of course I’m famously on record for thinking that UNFORGIVEN didn’t get it right.
In fact, I’ve been working on a script with this very premise myself for about a year, which made me even more interested in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I’ve never seen one of the elements in the story done the way I think it should be. But enough about my unfinished tripe. Let’s talk about Cronenberg.
Our story is of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), quiet unassuming, living in a small town with the respect of his neighbors. He has a wife Edie (the very sexy and very underrated Mario Bello), and two kids. Life is good. Then something happens, forcing Tom into a different mode. Suddenly his past starts to catch up with him.
I suppose to truly stupid people the film would be a bit of a mystery, but I’m going to assume you all will have that part figured out in ten seconds. (After all, the title isn’t “A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE?????”) And there’s a thriller aspect too, which is sweet, but that’s not why I’m writing about this film.
What makes it work are first and foremost the characters studies of Tom and Edie. Viggo is in rare form here, combining Aragorn from LOTR and that horrible guy from A PERFECT MURDER. You believe him in every part of his character. He’s just a treasure.
Equally good (though getting smaller screen time) is Maria Bello, who’s always been one of the sexiest women on screen to me. She has that hard-life look, like she’s been around. (And being blonde doesn’t hurt, as Hyperion is partial to blondes.) We see her struggle to come to terms with the man she loves, and try to decide if she can still live with him.
Suspension of Disbelief: 2 at the most. This is as real as it gets, with only a few cinematic flourishes that are necessary to propel the plot along.
Genre Grade: It’s hard to figure out what to call this. (When I initially heard the title I thought it was a documentary.) Let’s say psychological thriller: B+.
Sex/Violence/Language: This movie is every bit an R, though there isn’t all that much violence. But it’s unsettling, and more disturbing than horror-fare, because of the realism. There’s a tiny bit of nudity (Viggo’s butt), but there are two sex scenes, one of them VERY powerful (think ENEMY AT THE GATES). I don’t think my mom could handle this, but I’d actually like to see it with my dad.
But let’s go back to those earlier questions. They make A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE worth watching. They are never far from the surface. We are left to wonder if violence really does beget violence, if it’s passed from father to son, and whether that can be a good thing. It made me think about my past, the man I am now, the boy I used to be, and what I’d do if those two worlds collided. It made me wonder what I’d do to protect it.
The only minor quibbles I had was that the irony is laid on thick and obvious at the beginning, but I forgive Cronenberg there. At 90 minutes, he’s hustling to get his movie in. (Besides, the nuanced performances from everyone more than make up for it.) Also, I was so fascinated by Viggo Motensen’s character that I wished I could see more of him, of his past, of what made him the way he was, and what made him decide to change.
But if the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it makes you ache to see more of it, I’d say they did their job. This is not a typical thriller. It’s quiet, and the violence is fairly rare, so all the more jarring. (It’s definitely within the story, too.) This is not a movie for kids or those who simply can’t handle these types of questions, but for those you can, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE would make a great Halloween treat.