Retro Review: A History of Violence

There has been a lot of talk and commentary about “A History of Violence” from director David Cronenberg. The remarks focus primarily on how powerful and thrilling the film is on the angle it takes on an all-to familiar story. I disagree and this is why.

The film tells the story of your typical “heartland” family who own the town diner and are friends with just about everybody in town. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is the patriarch of that family with his wife, Edie (Maria Bello) and their two children.

All is just perfect until one fateful night, two gunmen stumble into the Stall’s diner just when Tom and his staff are about to close for the night. In the blink of an eye, Tom saves the day and is crowned the town’s local hero that in turn brings the media to cover the story. But the media isn’t the only thing interested in Tom Stall.

It so happens that this quiet family man has a deep dark secret that has garnered the attention of two gangsters (Ed Harris and William Hurt). Could it be true?

“A History of Violence” is one of those redemption stories where all is perfect until a deep dark secret emerges to threaten the peace. We have seen it all before and quite often it is a western. And basically that’s what David Cronenberg’s new film is primarily. It is a modern-day set western.

The problem I had with “A History of Violence” was that Cronenberg went through the whole film with one mood, rhythm, tone and theme. He didn’t stray from the path or ever ante up the action or tension in any of the scenes. The only real tension in this film is the firing of a gun but the tone is so down that gun-fights seem like they are stuck in slow-motion.

From what I had gathered from trailers and such, “A History of Violence” was being marketed as a razor-sharp psychological thriller where the theme of violence raises havoc with a small town family. It just isn’t so.

I have to hand it to Viggo Mortensen, he has no problems about doing different kinds of films. But I really think that there needed to be a more complex actor in the title role of this to give the audience more of a look inside who this man is. See the conflict in his face and show us the internal debates going on inside the man. I just didn’t feel any raw emotion from Viggo.

I really did like Maria Bello in this film because it seems to be her most honest and deepest portrayal to date. If it wasn’t for her dynamic performance I think it would have been hard to follow this film. She is the polar opposite to Viggo and it makes for an interesting conflict in a lot of the more everyday situations.

I also really didn’t get what Cronenberg was trying to accomplish with his rather awkward love scenes. I guess he was trying to touch on desperation verses love and devotion but I never felt it was poignant enough to make an impact.

I wanted so much more from “A History of Violence” and I am probably in the minority but I was disappointed. The film isn’t thrilling because the tone is done on such a low note I guess it is powerful in some scenes but not enough to carry the film. But as a whole I just don’t get it.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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