movie film review | chris tookey

History of Violence

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  History of Violence Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.47 /10
Tom Stall: Viggo Mortensen , Edie Stall: Maria Bello
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Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Josh Olson . Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke

Released: 2005
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US/ Canada
Colour: C
Length: 96

Hardcore fans of Canada’s creepiest director will doubtless feel that David Cronenberg’s latest, his most mainstream effort yet, is a cop-out. In reality, it’s a vast improvement on his usual output. There’s relatively little of the gratuitous nastiness associated with the creator of The Fly, Rabid and The Brood. Can it be that, at the ripe old age of 62, the splatter-fans’ favourite enfant terrible, also known as The Baron of Blood and The King of Venereal Horror, has finally matured?
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Okay, the sillier and gorier moments towards the end could be by Quentin Tarantino; but the best scenes might easily have been made by Alfred Hitchcock, especially in the period when the master of suspense gave us such small-town thrillers as Shadow of a Doubt.

The leading character is nice family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen, pictured, in his most commanding form since playing Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings). He’s the polite, friendly owner of a small cafe, with a bright teenage son (Ashton Holmes), a cute little daughter (Heidi Hayes) and a gorgeous, lawyer wife of 20 years (Maria Bello) who can still fit into her old cheerleader’s costume for some naughty bedroom frolics. They’re living the 12A-certificate American Dream in a small Indiana town that’s straight out of an old Frank Capra movie.

Their idyllic life enters a new, 18-certificate phase when two gangsters rob Tom’s cafe and start to rape one of the waitresses. Tom throws hot coffee over one of them, grabs his gun and blows both the bad guys away. Suddenly, he’s a hero, with his shy, reluctant face on all the news bulletins.

But then a sinister black car arrives in town, and out steps a gangster (icily played by Ed Harris) with a horribly scarred cheek and one good eye. He accuses easy-goin’ Tom of being someone called Joey. And Joey doesn’t sound too pleasant a guy.

So we’re left to wonder, along with Tom’s wife and family, if Tom is who he says he is. Wasn’t he a little too calm in a crisis, a bit too handy with a firearm? Does he, in short, have “a history of violence”?

Well, I’m not going to tell you. But the screenplay by Josh Olson, based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, does a great job of keeping us guessing. And as the story unfolds, its social significance also becomes clear. We gradually realise that Tom symbolises not only the good old US of A, but also man in general.

When the film moves venue to urban Philadelphia, the film changes drastically in tone and becomes campy grand guignol. William Hurt adds to the sense of theatricality with an over-ripe, hammy cameo.

Cronenberg’s sleazier preoccupations do surface eventually. He takes his usual, perverse pleasure in highly explicit brutality. Some will find the film’s starkly Darwinian view of humanity hard to share.

Still, I was held by the story throughout, and Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello give performances of greater strength and integrity than the film really deserved.

Young Ashton Holmes shows that he, too, is an actor to watch; and it isn’t his fault that the script is a tad unconvincing when it transforms this mild-mannered youth much too suddenly into a dangerous fighter with fists of steel.

A History of Violence is not to be recommended to anyone who feels faint at the sight of blood, but it is one of the most proficient, and thrilling, thrillers of the year.

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