Sunday, October 09, 2005

film - A History of Violence

3.5 / 5

Some minor with caution.

Based on a graphic novel, David Cronenberg's latest film isn't a weird marvel like some of his previous work. In fact, this is the most mainstream Cronenberg film that I've seen.

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Small town cafe owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) puts on some surprisingly deft fighting moves to thwart and kill a couple of armed, sadistically violent, robbers. News spreads about this publicity shy hero. A mysterious mobster and his thugs show up to harass the hero, whi they identify as "Joey." He swears to his wife, family and local sherrif that he is not this Joey character. The mobster shows up again at the hero's home, with his recently run-away son, willing to trade the son for "Joey" and much violence ensues...

Viggo Mortensen is credible as the all-American Dad. Beautiful Maria Bello is also very convincing as wife and mother, although she does seem to be quite a catch for her seemingly lower-middle class husband. Her occupation as a lawyer really doesn't play much of a role in the film. Ed Harris and William Hurt are suitably creepy as big time mobsters.

There are aspects of the story that we don't learn much about, and this only adds to the mystery of Tom Stall and his alleged past. Tom's high school son is picked on by a bully and his pal, but one day these jerks are taught a lesson in violence that they won't soon forget (thank you, Exodus.) Why are we shown this scene? Is it to show that we are all capable of acting violently? In reality, the scene is completely unrealistic. Anyone picked on by a few hot tempered, bigger kids wouldn't fight them because the bigger kids would always look for ways to extract revenge.

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Some of the dialogue is very corny. Listen to the son spouting off mobster lingo after watching Daddy dispatch some bad guys with lighting reflexes and slick moves usually associated with Steve Seagall characters and his heir apparent, Jason Statham (The Transporter.) I did not realize that goodfellas knew hand-to-hand combat like Green Berets. It's hilarious. Maybe the dialogue seelcted to contrast the happy, simple family with the shady, violent mob charcters and their lifestyle. There's one unintentionally funny scene in which our hero Tom runs down the street after the same black car that one of the mobsters travels in, parks menacingly outside the cafe and then drives down the street. With one injured foot, our hero scrambles down the sidewalk while calling his wife that he is on his way home and that she should load the shotgun as the bad buys are heading for the house. Did he think he would arrive there before them? The action is sparse but powerful, when Viggo's character cuts loose to defend himself. This film has a feel similar to Collateral but not as powerful. Still, it feels like a quality drama as opposed to being your typical cookie-cutter Hollywood film and is one of the better post-summer offerings.

A History of Violence is based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke.

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