Movie Review: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005

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Movie Reviews

Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Stephen McHattie, Peter MacNeill, Aidan Devin
Review by Andrew Kosarko


Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is living a happy and quiet life with his lawyer wife (Maria Bello) and their two children in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana, but one night their idyllic existence is shattered when Tom foils a vicious attempted robbery in his diner. Sensing danger, he takes action and saves his customers and friends in the self-defense killings of two-sought-after criminals. Heralded as a hero, Tom’s life is changed overnight, attracting a national media circus, which forces him into the spotlight. Uncomfortable with his newfound celebrity, Tom tries to return to the normalcy of his ordinary life only to be confronted by a mysterious and threatening man (Ed Harris) who arrives in town believing Tom is the man who’s wronged him in the past. As Tom and his family fight back against this case of mistaken identity and struggle to cope with their changed reality, they are forced to confront their relationships and the divisive issues which surface as a result.


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Never in the history of comic book films has a film adaptation been so wildly off base of the plot line of the original novel and been so accepted by fans…and critically successful. You have to give A History of Violence that. What really happens is, instead of following the comic book, which works backwards in telling a slightly…well, very different tale of Joey’s past, the film deals with the present and how he moves forward. The “hero” scene is the only loyal part of the movie and the rest goes off on it’s own. The overall factor that I think works for the film is the fact that it maintains the themes of the comic and then translates them into film and goes eh hem “violently” over the line. It never glorifies the violence – it’s almost so realistic you’d ask yourself “I think they really killed that guy…” and knowing Cronenburg, they just might have haha.

The Story: The odd approach to the structuring of this film pulls some people out of it. The film has a no bullshit attitude if you understand what the film maker’s intentions are. Otherwise, it’s a complete and utter mind blow as to what the hell is going on. It’s one of those films that really divides people to a black or white mentality. Most are in the optimistic view of it, but there’s some with an ignorant hatred against it. The basic theme is dealing with the primary instinct of mankind. Violence, righteousness, survival, sex and acceptance. If you get that, you’ll get the movie.

Acting: Viggo Mortenson and Maria Bello are just fantastic. They deliver dynamite performances. And while Bello and William Hurt get most of the acclaim, I think a large part of the film lingers on the question as to if Viggo is the man from the mob’s past or if he’s a mistaken person. Without impeccable acting, that intrigue would be lost on the audience and there would be very little interest in the film.

Directing: There are rumors that Cronenburg made the actors watch he and his wife have sex to show them how he wanted it to be portrayed on film. Whether or not that is true is beyond me, but given the style of product that he produces, I do believe he is a passionate and theatrical director. Either way, he is a director who understands themes and interprets them well.

Cinematography: The one thing that rubs me the wrong way is the cinematography. I always get this feeling they used a fish eye lens at some points, or altered the images in post. There’s a weird depth of field effect that always happens when characters walk from a distance to close to the camera. Either way, the shot design is very harsh and rough. The camera doesn’t move a whole lot. It seems to be stagnant shot to stagnant shot.

Production Design: Kind of drab but reflecting a real sense of gray. There is no flush of color at all and it almost contrasts to the story and characters. Their world is gray but they are very well defined as being good or evil.

Editing: Falls in line with the cinematography. It’s very hard cuts and while continuity matches up, there is a real lack of pacing at times. It’s almost a “continuity by the book” editing job. I find no real love or passion towards the film from it. The power comes more from the story and the performances.

Score: Is there a score? Because it’s so subtle that I barely tell. There ain’t no “main theme” or anything. It just plays out as is.

Special Effects: Fantastic. Why? Because Cronenburg does not glorify violence. Even most directors who claim they don’t still do. Cronenburg does not. When someone gets shot in the head, you believe they were shot in the head. Not just from the original entry of the bullet, but the shot after showing the effect the bullet had on their skull. It’s very realistic and will make your skin crawl. That’s what we call “effective” production design boys and girls.

In closing: If you see this movie under the intention that it will be a strict adaptation of the comic, you’re in for a rude awakening. However, the film draws a moment or two from the comic book and then rides the waves of the themes and similar character habits. While “A History of Violence” is not a well known graphic novel, or even a revered one at that, this adaptation is one of those rare “re-interpretations” that actually works.


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