I know everyone is expecting em to be all “Maria Bello, hot, hot, hot”, but I am an equal opportunity man, and Viggo, you are one hot dude!
Screenplay By: Josh Olson
Directed By: David Cronenberg
I am an unabashed fan of David Cronenberg and A History Of Violence is yet another fine entry into his outstanding career. Cronenberg has a tremendous visual eye, and this is seen countless times in A History Of Violence. From long shots that note the separation of characters, or sex scenes shot so as to show that the lives of a family have changed forever, to his always captivating way of capturing gore with his camera, Cronenberg, as well as cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, is a genius with the camera. But, in A History Of Violence it isn’t his use of the camera that once again proves Cronenberg’s validity as an auteur, instead it is his treatise on violence and human nature.
Are we defined by our actions, or can we change ourselves wholly? Is violence always abhorrent, or is it justifiable in certain times in certain situations? Are there acceptable levels of violence? Why does a family, and a town, glorify a man’s violence one day and then recoil from it the next when they realize violence has always been a part of him? These questions and more are put onto the table by David Cronenberg in A History Of Violence. It’s not enough to just ask these questions, Cronenberg gives his characters the time needed to ruminate over them, to come to their own conclusions and then to doubt those conclusions. Where he gives the issue the most weight is in his use of violence. The violence is realistic, it is to the point and it is never lingered on. Yet, one can’t help but get a kinetic charge when watching Viggo dispose of Ed Harris and his henchmen. At that point the film isn’t just using its characters to ask questions about violence, but now we are the focal point. What does our reaction to the violence on screen say about us?
Like usual, Cronenberg is a master of gore and of understanding how to use it. In other films he will go full bore with his gore effects, but in A History Of Violence it is used with restraint. Yes, blood does splatter and a jaw is detached, but the gore is never over the top and it is only used to realistically accentuate the violence. Another area where Cronenberg is a master is sex, on screen you dirty people! The first sex scene between Edie and Tom is conservative yet open. Like I said, only Cronenberg would be unashamed enough to find it serene when two characters are 69ing. This is contrasted by the later sex scene, where Tom discovers how much of his violence still resides within and how far it can take him. But, more importantly, Edie realizes how her husbands violence is sexy to her and this makes her ask questions about herself. As with the violence, in that scene Cronenberg is questioning us just as much as he is his characters.
By the way, as much as I don’t like doing this, those who have not yet seen the film should not read past this point as I will be giving away some major spoilers.
For all the questioning it contains, there is also a well laid out mystery within A History Of Violence. I was never convinced one way or the other about the Tom/Joey situation until Tom admits he is Joey in the hospital bed. One second I was convinced it was a case of mistaken identity and the next I was sure that Tom was hiding something. The first hour of A History Of Violence is a superb mystery thriller, on par with the works of Hitchcock and Clouzot.
The final thirty minutes of A History Of Violence are no longer a mystery thriller, they are a psychoanalysis of violence and the issue of redemption & hope. The final shot of A History Of Violence is the perfect capper to a perfect film. It hearkens back to earlier in the film when Tom and Edie had a discussion about her love for Tom always being in her eyes. In that final moment you see Edie’s eyes and you are asked to decide for yourself if that love is still present or if it has left for good? Personally, while I do think that Tom’s scene at the pond was a redemptive cleansing for him, I am unsure as to whether Edie’s eyes still expressed love. The fascinating thing about this film is that I don’t need to know, it is enough for me that the film ended in an eternal question for which I may never know the answer, no matter how many times I watch this movie.
It’s a testament to how great this picture is when I haven’t even mentioned the subplot with Jack, the way the film suavely touches on instant fame, or the interactions with Fogarty and Tom’s brother Richie, and I don’t intend to but trust me, every storyline in A History Of Violence was handled with deft precision. I will however touch on the acting in A History Of Violence, because it deserves discussion. Viggo Mortensen has developed into a terrific actor and one of my favorites. He completely inhabits Tom/Joey, going so far as to change his accent as the film progresses. He is small when he needs to be and large when the scene calls for it, he is, in short, a tremendous actor. Ed Harris was great, he can act circles around most people on the planet with only his mere vocal intonations. William Hurt gave a surprising performance, because while I have always thought of him as a good actor, I never thought he could be that vicious and smooth, while also a bit bumbling. Maria Bello was at her best in A History Of Violence, she was strong as well as weak, she expressed deep emotion with her eyes, this was her best performance by far. I could go on, the rest of the cast was superb, but I have talked more than enough.
For as glowing as I was towards A History Of Violence, I still wouldn’t put it ahead of Eastern Promises as far as Cronenberg films go. I know that others are more fond of his earlier work but, I have found his recent, more cerebral and restrained films to be just as great if not better as his more extreme pictures. Spewing forth from the twisted mind of David Cronenberg, A History Of Violence is a film that will make you think while challenging your sensibilities and giving you plenty to look at and performances to mull over all at the same time. I literally can’t recommend this film enough, just check it out.