No need to introduce this movie to film buffs but suffice it to say its worth the upgrade to blu-ray. The film is an anamorphic print and fills the screen. The opening shot of the motel in full sunlight is so sharp its almost unreal. The true dolby soundtrack is first class. Not too much in the way of extras but a worthy addition to your high def library.
We are in a a small community driven town, restaurant owner Tom Stall becomes the hero of the town when he shoots and kills two murdering robbers at the restaurant. Not long after, facially scarred Carl Fogarty arrives in town proclaiming that Tom is actually a former gangster from Philadelphia who needs to go back to pay his dues. As Fogarty and his Hench Men put the pressure on, Stall and his family are in danger of being overwhelmed with violence and mistrust.
One thing that can never be said about David Cronenberg is that he is a very predictable director, his output of course, if we are all honest, is very up and down, bewildering critics and fans in equal measure. Thankfully A History Of Violence finds Cronenberg on particularly devilish form, taking the graphic novel origins of the piece, written by John Wagner & Vince Locke, and crafting a modern day Western that is using violence as some sort of escalating disease. This is the point surely? The graphic violence (handled with morose tension by Cronenberg) is the main character in the film, regardless of any past history that Stall may have had, the violence arrives into this family, totally unwanted and unexpected, and then latches on to them to maybe destroy them?
With that point of interest to note, A History Of Violence can be seen as a blood brother to Cronenberg's wonderful remake of The Fly, the unwanted entering the fray and spreading its disease to the point of no return. There is the use of the husband and wife's ongoing sex life as a seriously smart strand in the escalating story, where once at the beginning there is fluffy erotic intercourse, then the on going danger in their lives brings darkness and borderline sadism, it's very relevant, as is the son axis as he goes through a dramatic change when the violence and threats engulf the family. Cronenberg gleefully ties all the murky threads together to ask us for a reaction to the violence up there on the screen.
The cast, with the exception of a fish out of water performance from Ashton Holmes as the son, Jack, is fine. Viggo Motensen plays the duality of the role as Tom Stall with much verve, while Maria Bello shows exactly why she shouldn't be working for food in hopeless miscast assignments like The Mummy 3. Ed Harris gives us a nice line in villain duties, and William Hurt crops up late in the piece to almost steal the film with his darkly disturbing menacing point of worth. Peter Suschitzky's photography enhances the primary colours for added impact when the mood swings down dark roads, and Howard Shore's musical score is constantly ominous, where he blends his own score for Silence of the Lambs with a sort of Berlioz like edginess.
All in all it's a very interesting and sneakily crafty picture that above all else shows that when on form, Cronenberg still has very much to offer modern age cinema. Now, about Straw Dogs? 8.5/10
This is a gem of a movie. It is one of those rare treats that you can enjoy on multiple levels - as a straight forward thriller, or as it is really intended, as something much more thought provoking.
We start the movie with Tom Stall (Viggo Mortnesen) and his wife played by Mario Bello exhibit all the characteristics of a happy, safe, marriage. Passionate, intimate, good kids etc... Then their world is disrupted, when two bad guys come into the diner where he works. They set out to do nasty things, and Stall is propelled into a brief but highly effective eruption of violence. He is feted as a hero, but we begin to see the changes in his relationship with his son in particular as a result. As the town comes back to normal however, the ever brilliant Ed Harris comes into town. He is convinced Tom Stall is actually someone else altogether, an explanation that fits with the violence we have seen. To say more about the plot would be to deprive you of seeing how things unfold, so I will leave it at that.
It is in the subtexts that the movie excels - not telling us what we should think, but questioning our own reactions. Is his son right for using more violent means with bullies? Was a little violence necessary to balance his pacifist ways? Is the couples `violent' sex more real than the passion we see near the beginning of the movie?
As stated by others, it is after the movie ends and you start talking about the movie.. and you WILL start talking about the movie, that you will realise how effective it actually was. The performances are uniformly excellent - Mario Bello brings real credibility to a wife dealing with the changes in her husband, and Ashton Holmes as Tom Stall's son is brilliant. William Hurt is almost unrecognisable in the role of a mob boss teetering on the edge of sanity. And last but not least, Howard Shore gives a muted and perfectly sorrowful score, completely at odds with the violence in a way that helps the movie immensely.
There is violence, and there is sex, but all tightly controlled and more tense than graphic, and all carefully crafted to service the story. The ending will disappoint you if you tackle this as a mere action movie.. but if you want a real kick off into the whole subject of the influence and effects of violence, then this is a perfect place to start.
on 6 December 2006
When all the attention was firmly focused on Ang Lee's other western, Brokeback Mountain, for me, David Cronenberg's excellent, contemporary western was the more arguably powerful film.
Taking the premise of a small, idyllic town, and the small-time cafe owner who kills two robbers who he feels are endangering his costumers, Cronenberg skillfully crafts a brilliant story of a man who tries to suppress the violence that is part of his nature, but which eventually consumes him. Cronenberg searches deep in to the human nature, examining the brutal, shocking violence that is at the core of this movie.
Viggo Mortensen fits the bill perfectly, looking so much like a man of the west -- the only thing missing is a cowboy hat. Perfectly portraying the quiet cafe owner, then his violent alter ego Joey, Mortensen is excellent throughout. The violence is brutal and sudden, but it is authentic and shockingly real -- Cronenberg apparently got some of the violence from a DVD on the internet which shows you how to kill a man on the street, which he stumbled across.
For those of you who have not seen this I urge you to get it. Underrated, this film deserves better as it is a brilliant examination of human behaviour and Mortensen's character is a perfect example of a man trying to forget his past, but which inevitable catches up with him.
on 13 July 2015
If you want to see Viggo Mortensen in a David Cronenberg movie, see "Eastern Promises." If you want to see Viggo in a movie with Ed Harris, see "Appaloosa." Give this one a miss. It's schematic, and it's implausible. As with "Harry Brown," the Michael Caine vehicle, how is it that violent men can step away from violence for years -- about 20 in this case -- and yet, when fighting and gunplay are necessary, it's as if their skills are undiminished. I just don't believe it. Add to that the political subtext -- violence doesn't just lie under the surface of civilized life; it's necessary to maintain civilized life -- and you're in very troubling territory, when the violence takes what might be called a vigilante form. The casting, acting, and cinematography here are all of good quality, so it's easy to be drawn in to the weird moral world of the movie, but as with "Harry Brown," when you've done cheering for Michael Caine or Viggo Mortensen, step back, think about the implications of what you've seen and how you have been manipulated, and I think you'll be disturbed. Cronenberg is not a stupid man, and at the end of the movie, there's an awkward scene that perhaps reveals that even he doesn't quite know where to go with an ending. Note: there's a lot of violence shown -- some of it, I think, gratuitous. That is, Cronenberg wants to rub our nose in it, and invite us to enjoy it. I'm not averse to violence or sex in movies, but the violence here seems just a bit off.
on 28 February 2014
Tom Stall is a loving family man and well-respected citizen of a small Indiana town.
But when two savage criminals show up at his diner, Tom is forced to take action and thwart the robbery attempt.
Suddenly heralded as a hero who took the courage to stand up to crime, people look up to Tom as a man of high moral regard. But all that media attention has the likes of mobsters showing up at his doorstep, charging that Tom is someone else for whom they've been looking.
Is it a case of mistaken identity, or does Tom have a history that no one knows about? Either way, someone's about to find out....
Easily Cronenbergs most accessible film since 'The Fly', AHOV still keeps us in the classic Cronenberg sense, no matter how many popular people are in this, it has a very vicious streak down it's marvellous spine.
Mortensen is fantastic as Tom, and reason being is because he never changes the look on his face when he is defending his life or just serving coffee.
The film explores violence in many ways, how it can dig up bad blood, inspire people, and turn people on.
Bello has never been better than this, and even though he isn't in it very much, Harris is very scary and the best thing in the film.
It gets only slightly daft toward the end, Hurt is okay as his brother, but puts on a silly accent and hams it up a little too much.
But all in all it's a very rich film, and the last scene is touching, with everyone knowing that time is a healer, but some things should be left buried.
An excellent film.
Every now and again, though alas far too rarely, you see a film that is so much better than almost anything else on offer, so much richer, truer, with all concerned - director, writer, actors - in tune with what the film is trying to achieve, that as you leave the cinema or turn off the TV, you feel like cheering.
This is one of those special films.
Amazon`s description, above, as well as my fellow reviewers, have outlined the plot so I won`t dwell too much on it here. What I do wish to dwell on are the terrific performances of the actors, Cronenburg`s superb direction, and a screenplay which, for an American film, refuses to insult the intelligence.
Viggo Mortensen, after many compelling roles in often excellent films, and after his three recent parts for Cronenburg and his astonishing work in The Road, has become one of America`s finest actors. Not only that, he is (for me, at least) a timely corrective to the many `boy-man` stars that infest Hollywood these days, whether of the Sandler/Rogan type or the Di Caprio/Damon/Depp kind. I`ve enjoyed all three of the latter group in many roles, but too often they are asked to play men and are only able to look like boy pretenders - and Depp has been phoning in too many performances in recent years, usually in pirate costume. One longs for Viggo, Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Vincent D`Onofrio...anyone who can play a real, living breathing man!
Viggo, all guileless passivity to begin with, plays the Man With a Past subtly and with just enough bubbling away beneath the surface to intrigue. When, quite early in the film, he is required to defend himself (and a potential rape victim) in the diner he runs, his abruptly efficient dispatching of the two louts who are threatening the woman, himself, and his `new` life is breathtaking in its ruthless, neat proficiency. This man with his hawkish but gentle face doesn`t look like a man who could kill so easily, with such precise finality. Viggo convinces us of this man`s present good-citizen gentleness, as well as his potential for professional and swift reprisal.
Maria Bello plays his wife. She reminds me not a little of another favourite actress
of mine, Diane Lane (who is a similar age) and is new to me. No longer, I`m very glad to say. She`s note-perfect as Viggo`s feisty, sexy wife, and shares two wonderfully played and directed sexual encounters with her husband, one dressed in her old cheerleader`s outfit - which may require pausing the DVD player to take a cold shower - and the other halfway up a flight of stairs, in a scene so ambiguous and motivationally ambivalent as to be tough to watch. The wit, not to mention sure touch, with which Cronenburg invests both scenes saves them both from being merely token `sex scenes`. All through this terrific film, Bello matches Viggo moment for moment. I can`t imagine why this actress is not better known.
Ed Harris and William Hurt both have smaller, though pivotal, roles in the drama and both are as brilliant as you`d expect them to be. In fact, it must be said that Hurt gets the chance to chew the scenery to some extent, which he does with evident relish.
The title - A History Of Violence - is poignantly, tellingly ironic in its extended meanings. For this is not simply a story of a man with `a history of violence` but a parable of modern America, with its history/histories of violence. It is a film which will repay many viewings, for the steady, unshowy direction - Cronenburg is surely now an American master - and a slew of beautifully modulated performances, led by Viggo and Maria Bello as a sexily happy couple whose world suddenly falls apart. It`s all portrayed with the inevitablity of classical tragedy.
Certainly, a great American movie, if not - as my review`s title implies - THE Great American Movie...?
A History of Violence is a title that makes you think it's a case history or a way of describing a person's past or implying that violence is innate to us as a species.This is a mainstream film for Cronenburg but with disturbing undercurrents.Here unlike in his usual films of physical transformation,Cronenburg's focus has become what's going on under the surface of the normal,the inner struggle of violence in a small town character, Tom Stall,and the ramifications and after-effects on all those around him,wife,children.Tom(Mortensen)runs a diner with several staff and has a loving relationship with his wife(Bello),son Jack and daughter,who he reassures there are no monsters when she wakes from a nightmare.However violence in the opening scenes of two killers dispels this.The idyllic life they lead is shattered when the killers arrive late one night to hold up the diner, intending to kill everybody. Tom's quick reaction is justified to defend his customers and friends by killing them.Tom somewhat distraught, becomes the local hero attracting national media attention.Tom and his wife enjoy a natural sexual relationship after 15 years of loving marriage.Tom's son Jack(Ashton) is charming and intelligent and avoids violence at school even when bullied.
In the 2nd half of the film with the arrival of mobster Ed Harris(Carl Fogarty) and his men the perception of Tom by the townspeople and his family is about to change again. Fogarty believes Tom is Joey Cusack, responsible for scarring his eye in the past and that he knows a thing or two about violence and killing.Tom and his family fight back against this case of mistaken identity.Can you give up an authentic self and live with a new persona?Has Tom gone to such lengths to create another life without his family's knowledge? Was he a man who lived with extreme violence as a young man and has been willing himself to not be violent in this new life only to be drawnreluctantly back?Jack sees his father react with the men of violence,his wife sees him brutally destroy someone.Cronenburg wants the audience to be complicit with the violence-to enjoy something we are morally reprehensible towards. Violence is shown as an unfortunate but real part of human existence,making it ungainly and showing what it does to the human face.Jack becomes like his father at school and takes on the school bully.Tom's wife wants animalsex with `Joey'.Shifts in character have occurred and we get the twist to reveal who Tom is.Mortensen reveals the changes from soft to hard in his features.Hurt gives a scary performance as Joey's brother Richie in a Cain and Abel role. Tom's family struggle to cope with their changed reality,forced to confront the conflict between them.The film's end is suitably ambiguous when Tom/Joey comes back home:who is he?who are we?Do we ever know other people?Harris is excellent,Mortensen is brilliant.
on 30 March 2006
I haven't read the comic book, but this film is superbly cast with Morgensten in the lead as Tom Stall, the mild mannered owner of the local diner, of this well paced film.
It might be a little slow for some people's liking. Unlike many people's ideas of what a comic book is, it creates great depth of character and focuses mostly on the relationship between Tom and his wife and children, which dramatically changes after an earth shattering event at his local diner, which exposes Tom to be more than just the local hero. Tom's past catches up with him and as a result he finds himself in limbo between his old life and his new. Only he has the power to decide the route forward, or back.
Some people might find the small patches of extreme violence difficult to take, but for the most part the drama is played out without it.
I don't think this made it big in the box office and as such should be a good evenings viewing (or purchase) on DVD, and will not disappoint.
on 7 August 2011
A languid opening sequence reveals portents of violence. The initial counterpoint is an idyllic family life; love permeating wife, husband and two children. The first episode of violence is understated yet explicit in result. In time, the shadow of `organised crime' casts its ugly and at that moment, potentially brutal shadow over the family and its little diner. The next violent episodes are emotionally surprising. The plot thickens. There is a very powerful love-making scene. The power is from both sides, sequentially then simultaneously. There is a final phase of violence, like the showdown in Westerns, only a 21st century version. The film captures the principle that `less is more'. There are no explosions, car chases, crashes and mayhem; just brooding atmosphere, underlying threat and sharply focused violence. As in life, ultimately, love is the central character.
Author of The Early Years