A History of Violence is the latest film from director David Cronenberg, who made a name for himself with gory, viscerally disturbing films such as Videodrome and The Fly. His most recent effort was Spider, a gripping story of a mentally retarded man trying to come to grips with life outside the asylum and with his own past.
R for strong violence, sexuality, nudity, language, drug
Compared to the other titles in the Cronenberg filmography, A History of Violence is surprisingly conventional. The story is about a man who lives in a small town and runs a café. His anonymity is destroyed when he shoots two wanted criminals who try to rob his establishment. The publicity brings to town some bad men who know Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) from his previous criminal life, which he has kept from his family and friends.
In fact, the movie is too conventional. Stall and his family are such “normal” people that you can’t imagine having ever met people like them. They live in a small Midwestern town, and one has to wonder whether Cronenberg has ever lived in a small town. He seems to think small towns are inhabited by hard-workin’, clean-livin’, honest folks, instead of actual human beings. The town is full of one stereotype after another, with hardly and details to ground them to reality.
After introducing the conflict, Cronenberg starts introducing the movie’s theme, that violence is a disturbingly easy solution. Getting rid of violence from your life is a constant, difficult task, whereas pulling a gun on your tormentors is easy. It’s human nature, he says, and it must be fought vigilantly if we are to escape it.
David Shore’s excellent score is a wonderful counterpoint the violence that eventually shows up on-screen. Rather than heightening the tension with tense music that shouts “Oh my God!”, Shore takes Cronenberg’s point of view and plays a sad, melancholy theme that seems to say “isn’t this too bad?”
Eventually, the characters are fleshed out, but it takes the whole movie for them to stop seeming so two-dimensional. By the time the movie ends, you have only begun to feel like you know the characters. The credits suddenly roll, just when you were ready for the movie to really start.
Mortensen shines, once we get past the setup. His desperation to protect his family and their peace is impressive, and right on-target for Cronenberg’s theme. Some of the better supporting members of the cast are William Hurt as a gangster from Stall’s past, Ashton Holmes as Stall’s son, and Maria Bello as Stall’s wife.
In the details, the movie isn’t a resounding success, but in the end, the movie makes its case well. Music, plot, and acting all add up to what Cronenberg probably had in mind.