A History of Violence (18)

Directed by David Cronenberg, written by Josh Wagner and Vince Locke (graphic novel) and Josh Olson
On general release from Sept 30th 2005

Reviewed by Kenn Taylor

A History of Violence could accurately describe Canadian director Cronenberg’s career from the insect-mutation of The Fly (1986) and the car-wreck erotica of Crash (1996) to the exploding heads of Scanners (1981), he has become the king of ‘body-horror’.

A change of tack for Cronenberg in this film, on the surface a more orthodox thriller focusing on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) who owns a small dinner in Indiana and lives a seemingly idyllic life with his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and their two kids. It seems a happy but unexciting existence, the biggest drama in their lives at the start of the film is husband and wife trying to spice up their sex-life and his young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes) having a nightmare mixed in with nice incidental music and lots of shots of western-style sunsets and life in small town America. When his son Jack (Ashton Holme) gets bullied in gym class it almost begins to look like one of those brat-pack movies from the eighties.

Things take a more sinister turn when two violent and ruthless criminals take Tom’s diner (Suzanne Vega anyone?) as being an easy target for some quick cash. Tom seems happy to hand over the money but when they decide to try and kill one of his staff anyway with the use of a coffee pot and a gun Tom dispatches both of the criminals with startling efficiency. Defending his small business, his staff, and American values the wounded Tom becomes, despite his reluctance, a national hero.

His attempts to get back to normality are quickly shattered when Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his henchmen roll into town. Having seen Tom’s antics on the news they are convinced Tom is actually Joey, a ruthless hitman from Philadelphia who in one his more violent moments tried to rip out Carl’s eye with barbed wire. Everyone including Tom finds the idea of this patient and kind man being a ruthless executioner hard to take, even with his earlier antics but Carl is convinced that after all these years he has found his man.

What follows is a mostly slow-burning, well acted drama, as the Stalls try and come to terms with the fact that their life may be based on a lie, which occasionally turns shockingly, graphically violent. The story’s origins as a graphic novel can be seen with lingering shots of the stark after-effects of violence. The film asks the questions is violence always wrong, can someone really change their character, and examines the burning desires of wanting revenge and wanting to protect those close to you, but offers no easy answers.

While still at times sickeningly violent the film seems more concerned with examining violence as an intrinsic part of human nature and culture and perhaps Cronenberg is examining himself as to why he is driven to make the films he does. A break from his usual work and as a result he has made possibly his best film.

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