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"A History of Violence"

Directed by David Cronenberg.
Written by Josh Olsen.  Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  10/10/2005


I'm pretty sure that I have never seen a, well, normal film by David Cronenberg.  The man that has given us such strange gifts as "Naked Lunch", "Crash", "Scanners" and "The Fly", he normally works with strange actor leads (Jeff Goldblum!  Jeremy Irons!  Christopher Walken!  James Spader!), directs films with strange plots and generally gives you the feeling that he is as spooky as his movies.

I don't know if "A History of Violence" is the kind of film that will mark Cronenberg's final focus in filmmaking--he's in his 60s now--but if it is any indication, I can't wait to see what he does next.  Viggo Mortensen (our man from the "Lord of the Rings" films and late of "Hidalgo") plays Tom Stall, family man in a small ---tern town and owner of a local downtown diner.  One day, while minding his own business, he encounters two small-time criminals that enter his establishment; faced with the prospect of having one of his waitresses killed by these criminals, Tom takes action and takes down the two thugs.

This act of heroism leads the locals to anoint Tom as an American hero; it also leads suspicious men to the small town of ---- where he lives, including Fogarty (Ed Harris) and two associates, men who ride around in what must be the only black Chrysler 300C in town.  Tom starts to face questions from the local sheriff, the media, even his beautiful wife Edie (Maria Bello, from "The Cooler")--Tom was incredibly swift in dealing with the baddies at his diner, and why is this Fogarty guy insisting that Tom's real name is Joey?

All of it is played out in a way that I would have never expected from Cronenberg.  The dialogue and much of the acting seems to be deliberate; the first three minutes of the film, featuring our first meeting with the two roving killers that end up in Tom's diner, is a great set-up for us to see how we will deal with all of the characters to be met throughout the movie.  The pacing is laid back, with moments of sincere terror and violence; the constant mood shifting plays with your tension in ways I haven't seen in a while, at once beautifully quiet and serene and then literally one scene later splattered with blood.

You probably wouldn't have guessed it (hehehe), but "A History of Violence" is quite crimson; I can't believe how many people in my audience were disgusted by what they were seeing, but then I thought "Jeez, did they see the trailer for this film?  Did they see it was directed by a guy that made a movie about people that intentionally wreck their cars to get hot and bone in their front seats?  Did they not read the R-rating description, 'strong, brutal violence/gore?'  C'mon!"  All that being said, certainly this will leave some people gasping and oh-my-God'ing, so just know coming in that while it is a smart, entertaining thriller, this does NOT make for good family fare nor does it make for good first date material.

Mortensen is excellent as Tom; of course, he's been great in everything for about the last ten years now.  Ditto for Harris, who shows up halfway through the film and adds that je-ne-sais-quoi that Harris always adds, even in the rare instances when he picks a bad film to work in.  Bello really seems to enjoy her naked self--between her work here and in "The Cooler", she certainly has no problems with nude scenes--but even with the clothes on I think she does great work as a dramatic performer.  Her future is limitless, unless she pulls a Nic Cage and decides to start working in big piles of shit for the next few years for the big paycheck (and "Assault on Precinct 13" was not a good start).  Even the hammy performance that comes late in the film by a big-name actor is great fun.

Beautifully shot, well-crafted and featuring a great, quiet, perfect-fit ending sealed the deal for me, and clocking in at 95 minutes doesn't stretch out the details past the welcome mat.  "A History of Violence" is as good an adult thriller as there will be this year, so soak it in at your local multiplex soon.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.) 

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09