“A History Of Violence” is a curiously entertaining film which manages to blend a mainstream-style revenge plot with an off-beat, art-house sensibility. The latter is obviously the influence of director David Cronenberg who is known for taking a more left-of-centre approach to his film-making, and the results in this case are quite good, pulling you in to a story that has many twists and surprises, as well as some rock-solid performances and characters. Only a lame climax, thanks to an over-the-top performance by William Hurt, brings the film down a notch or two.
The film opens with a meticulously choreographed scene which is filmed in one shot. We are introduced to a serial-killing duo of men who at first appear to be leaving from their hotel on a road-trip, but we only realise at the end of the scene that they have murdered the caretakers of the hotel in brutal fashion. This set-up plays in to the themes of violence that are raised throughout the film, particularly in its graphical nature as displayed in this scene.
We are next introduced to Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) who is leading the picture-perfect family life in small town America. He has a loving wife and a smart son who avoids violence at all costs (an early scene sees his son talk his way out of a fight with a bully at school). One day, while Tom is working at the local diner, the serial-killing duo arrive, but Tom, in what appears to be an uncharacteristic display of brutal retaliation, kills the sadistic pair before they are able to inflict any serious harm to anyone. By saving the lives of everyone in the diner, Tom becomes a local hero. However, his new-found fame brings him some unwanted attention, and this is where the film becomes very interesting. A gangster Carl Fogarty (an evil Ed Harris) arrives, claiming he knows Tom as “Joey”. Tom denies this as a case of mistaken identity, but as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Tom is actually an ex-mobster who tried to escape that life by creating a softer alter-ego in Tom Stall and moving as far away as possible from the violence in his past.
The complex nature of the relationships that play out following the revelation that Tom actually led a secret mobster life are intriguing to watch, especially with Tom’s wife (Maria Bello) who still feels love for Tom but is simultaneously disgusted with him and his lies. The change in his son is also pronounced when he decides to use violence to exact revenge on the school bully. The tug-of-war in allegiances of the characters to Tom make the majority of this film a cut-above the usual revenge flick, as Tom is essentially the hero and the villain at the same time.
The film’s stumbling block comes in the Third Act when Tom’s brother Richie Cusack (played by William Hurt) demands Tom come to see him. William Hurt is normally a brilliant actor, but somehow he does not look all the comfortable as a gangster, particularly with his over the top performance. It also does not help that there is no physical resemblance between himself and Viggo Mortensen.
After Tom despatches all of the mobsters trying to kill him, including his brother, he returns home and sits down at the dinner table. The dynamic between Tom and his family is still mesmerising, and you almost want the film to continue to see how they resolve their dilemma, but unfortunately, the film ends at this point without warning. Perhaps it was the construction of these final scenes that is to blame, given that there did not seem to be a resolution coming at the appropriate time, or maybe Cronenberg did not want to have a traditional ending. Either way, the ending leaves you hanging on, as if you’ve been cheated out of the resolution of the story. On this point, the film loses points because an otherwise satisfying and rich storyline is not given a proper conclusion.
“A History Of Violence” is perhaps one of David Cronenberg’s best works, and is worth checking out for its atypical take on the revenge film.
For the complete, original DVD review, click this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/dvdreviewahistoryofviolence.htm
Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site All About Movies.net. He also contributes reviews and articles for the Digicosm Film Blog: http://www.filmannex.com/Digicosm