Monday, June 17, 2013

A History of Violence (2005)

Director: David Cronenberg                         Writer: Josh Olson
Film Score: Howard Shore                          Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt

I’m not a big fan of graphic novels that make it to the big screen. V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are about the only two I’ve really enjoyed. But David Cronenberg really has something here. We’ve all seen stories about people who have had to go into witness protection, but what happens when their cover is blown? This is the premise for A History of Violence. Viggo Mortensen is a mild-mannered owner of a diner in a small town. He’s married to the beautiful Maria Bello and they have two very normal, middle-class kids. Everything goes along great for years until one day the wrong people come into the diner.

The film begins with two men who are quickly understood to be serial killers. Though in the script the younger man is a nephew, there is more of a father-son vibe present, the older man teaching the younger about killing. But, and this is big, Cronenberg defies expectations. The audience expects this to be a siege picture, with the two serial killers taking over the house of this perfect family and seeing who would come out on top. Instead, the two walk into Mortensen’s diner and before they can kill anyone, Mortensen manages to get the better of them and kill them both. So it’s not what we expect, and that defying of expectations continues over the course of the film.

The story began its life as a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Josh Olsen took the story and crafted into a screenplay, but Cronenberg is the one who brought it to life. Mortensen does his usual job holding down the lead and delivering a solid performance. Maria Bello, who is probably best known for her work on ER is terrific as the wife. She is incredibly supportive at first, and very believably betrayed in the film. Ed Harris is the wronged mobster who, seeing Mortensen on the news, comes after him. William Hurt has a nice cameo as Mortensen’s brother, and the teenage son is wonderfully played by Ashton Holmes.

David Cronenberg has made relatively few films over the past twenty years, over the course of his career, really. But each one has the look of something carefully crafted and bearing the undeniable stamp of the director. Lately he has produced more mainstream films, and though small in stature they seem to carry much more weight than his earlier, genre films. A History of Violence is a great title, with several meanings and a story that unfolds for the audience in a very satisfying way. Cronenberg’s visual style is very distinctive, and while the stories he has been filming lately may not be the greatest cinema in the world, they are very good movies.

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