Back Comments (17) Share:
David Cronenberg is one sick puppy. His deviant little mind has given birth to no end of disturbing creations, most of which would even garner Salvador Dali’s attention. He gave us psychics who could think your head into exploding in Scanners, a guy with a gun concealed in his stomach in Videodrome, a drug-induced delirium involving giant talking cockroach-men in Naked Lunch and people who enjoyed having sex with other individuals’ accident-related injuries in Crash. I’m not saying the guy doesn’t have his artistic merits ( Videodrome is one of the best movies James Woods has ever starred in), but some of his ideas are utterly cringe-inducing. As with the likes of David Lynch, when you hear the name Cronenberg associated with a production, you know what you’re in for—until now.

A History of Violence

Feature


Tom Stall lives a perfectly calm, almost mundane existence, running a small town diner and coming home to his loving wife, teenage son and young daughter. Nothing much out of the ordinary happens in his life, and he likes it that way. One day, however, all of this changes. Two strangers enter his diner and hold him, his staff and his customers at gunpoint. When it becomes apparent that these psychotic criminals are going to start killing people, Stall reacts in a way that nobody who knew him in this small town could have possibly predicted. With his name strewn across the papers, yet more strangers come to town to ask questions and find out more about this seemingly innocuous small-town hero and pretty-soon even his family are suspicious of his shady history. Is he really who he says he is?

A History of Violence has a fairly by-the-numbers story, the likes of which you would never have expected an auteur like David Cronenberg to even take a second look at. Strangely though, without his particular style and method to evolving the plot, this film could have turned out to be just another Seagal-style B-movie revenge thriller. As is, he slow-burns the story, hitting you with shocking acts of violence at unexpected points along the way and pivoting the movie on its head whenever you feel like you can predict what is going to happen next. I’m not saying the overall concept isn’t easy to predict, but somehow Cronenberg works the tension and unravels the plot in a very natural but equally suspenseful fashion.

A History of Violence
Viggo Mortensen, whose recent turn in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy has given his career a new lease of life, takes on the lead role of Tom Stall, able to carry off the complex character with aplomb and convince in both his light and darker personas. He gets some superb support from Maria Bello (as hot here as she was in The Cooler), as his loving—and slightly confused—wife, but the real scene-stealing star is Ed Harris. His cameos in movies like the Cruise vehicle, The Firm, have proven that this heavyweight performer only needs moments to work his magic and here is no exception. Playing the one-eyed stranger who is more than a little interested in Stall’s heroic behaviour, he simply oozes malevolence and understated power. It’s also worth noting William Hurt—almost unrecognisable both in looks and accent, and with even less screen time than Harris, but still excellent in his role.

A History of Violence is a truly tremendous thriller, made great by excellent direction and solid performances. Despite Cronenberg being the last person you would expect to be able to pull this off (and there are a couple of trademark head-shots and over-observation of gruesome violence which fans will note) he does a superb job at elevating a standard B-movie plot into something much more palatable and memorable. At a time when it seems like people are running out of ideas in Hollywood, a perfect solution was found in the last place you would expect it. With horror-master Wes Craven proving he could handle thrillers like Red Eye and Cronenberg here giving us a noteworthy thriller, perhaps more ‘offbeat’ auteurs should set their sights on alternative material. Who knows? Maybe David Lynch will be next.

A History of Violence

Video


A History of Violence is presented in a decent 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is good throughout, with no signs of softness and barely noticeable edge enhancement, although a couple of the more cloudy sequences capture a little grain—again, though, this is negligible. The colour scheme is generally quite good, with the occasional sun-blessed moments looking very pleasant and the quaint little town painted as suitably dreary and low-key. Blacks are solid and round out a decent transfer for a recent movie, with no signs of any print damage whatsoever.

Audio


The main soundtrack is a superior Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound effort that presents the dialogue clearly and coherently from the frontal array, whether it be the quiet moments between Tom and his kids, or the screams and shouts of those under threat. The effects vary from the brutal gunfights to more subtle observations of rumbling car engines and baseball games. The score (by Lord of the Rings’ Howard Shore) is perfectly suited to the material and keeps the tension going throughout, and there is even a little bass on offer here. We also get a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 affair for completeness.

A History of Violence

Extras


First up there is a full-length audio commentary by the director himself, David Cronenberg. Fans of this great auteur will be particularly happy to get this contribution from him, and he narrates the proceedings almost constantly but therein lies the problem—he is so busy contemporaneously talking about the on-screen action that he often fails to add anything of a more anecdotal nature into the proceedings. For those who want to hear every minute detail about the long takes, the score and the story development, however, this is a worthy offering.

‘Acts of Violence’ is a comprehensive eight-part documentary that boasts a mammoth hour of behind the scenes information. We get plenty of b-roll footage, scene exploration (basically focussing on the eight key acts of violence, as well as providing an introductory segment), on-set direction, off-set interviews and interesting background footage of the movie actually being filmed. Again, very dry and inherently technical in its nature, this production at least showcases contributions from most of the principal cast members.

We get a two-and-a-half-minute deleted scene—Scene 44—(with optional commentary by the director, who explains he own ethos on deleted footage) that definitely shows off more of Cronenberg’s extreme eye for gore. It is an interesting scene, and you can see why it was a tough call to remove it, so it is all the better that they include it here for your perusal. We also get an accompanying eight-minute ‘Unmaking of Scene 44’, which is basically an in-depth exploration of this particular deleted dream sequence. Cronenberg discusses how the scene was so much in his style that he thought it best to remove it. We get contributions (mostly on-set) from the cast and crew and they show background footage of the actual scene being put together, with shots of the bloody stunt dummies being tested and the techniques they used to fire Ed Harris across the room.

A History of Violence
‘Violence’s History’ is a brief, ninety-second look at the differences between the US and International versions of the movie. Cronenberg narrates as they show us split-screen comparisons of the two (barely noticeable) shots that were changed, with merely less blood being used in the tamer version. Unless you had been specifically told, I would be surprised if anybody would naturally spot the differences.

The final main extra is a nine-minute documentary on the Cannes release of the movie. After hearing how Cronenberg expected the movie to be ‘too commercial for Cannes’, we get some footage of the run-up, and then the actual festival itself, with the cast and crew (including Viggo Mortensen sporting a particularly goofy Seventies porn-star moustache) doing umpteen interviews and being swamped by photographers and press crews. This works well as a nice Cannes video diary.

Lastly we get the main theatrical trailer, although really you would be better off avoiding this if you want to fully enjoy the movie.

A History of Violence

Overall


A History of Violence is a by-the-numbers thriller made infinitely more memorable by David Cronenberg’s superior direction. Featuring standout performances by Viggo Mortensen, proving there is life beyond The Rings, and the ever-reliable Ed Harris, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not taking the time to see this movie. The video and audio presentations are superb and totally in-line with the production, and we get a wealth of decent extras to round off a brilliant release. Highly recommended.


Links: