Director: David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners)
Writer: John Wagner and Vince Locke
Screenplay: Josh Olson
Producer: David Cronenberg, Chris Bender, J.C. Spink
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris
Running time:96 min.
read my spoiler disclaimer
Surprise! Lots of violence here. With lots of realistic and brutal violence, it's obvious David Cronenberg has a history of this sort of thing. Close-ups of heads being shot off, noses being bashed into someone's skull, chests exploding, blood squirting everywh...well, you get the point. There's a body count in this one, although you may not expect there to be in the first 30 minutes or so.
Tom Stall lives an ordinary life in small town middle America, with a pretty wife and 2.5 kids. Everyone in town knows, respects and even admires him. When he saves the local diner and several townsfolks' lives from a couple bad dudes trying to rob the place, he becomes a local hero. His face is plastered on the TV and newspapers. Soon after, a group of men show up in town claiming Tom is really an ex-mobster named Joey. Threats, fights and harassment of his family ensue. Eventually, Tom must fight back.
Is this a case of mistaken identity, or is Tom really hiding something evil within his past? Either way, a man must protect his family, and to do so, he must become someone else, metphorically speaking. It is a fairly straight-forward story; very linear, so there's not much to say about the story itself without ruining anything, but there are a few points I'd like to make about this really intense film. I will list them now:
1) As I watched, I got really interested in the characters and a couple of side stories. Especially Tom's son, Jack, who is being harassed at school by a bully. Always backing down and talking his way out of every situation, Jack decides (after learning of his father's heroic actions) that violence may be the ticket to "freedom." Within the five minute sequence of his inevitable confrontation with the bully and the discussion afterwards with his father, is encapsulated the entire premise of the film: who we are is inescapable. It was one of the best five minutes of film I have seen in a long, long time.
2) This film held back nothing. Besides the brutal reality of violence I already mentioned, there was a rawness to everything. What really caught me off guard were the two unconventional sex scenes between Tom and his wife. The director obviously had no qualms with sexuality; likewise with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello. Both scenes were very intimate and sexually raw; but the weird thing was, there was no nudity. We knew what was going on, but there was no skin. Still, when it was over, especially the first sequence, there were mur-murs, restlessness and whispers of uncomfortability from all around me in the theater. I think people were really taken off guard. For a director to evoke that kind of reaction from an audience, without revealing any skin, says something pretty remarkable about the director. Side-note: although this will make me sound like a real conservative prude, I must mention this. Despite the fact there is no nudity in the love-making scenes, there is one completely unnecessary full frontal nude shot of Bello later in the film. After eliciting a natural shock from his audience, Cronenberg tries to shock us even more with something we've all already seen before, and all it really did was bug me.
3) At one point about two-thirds of the way through, all of the characters change...dramatically. Hence the story takes a turn. In my opinion, a turn for the worse. All of a sudden, new characters are introduced, others are left behind and a whole new story begins to unfold. Everything comes back full circle by the end, but I was disappointed in the final few chapters.
4) Although Ed Harris is listed in the cast and is a major player in the trailer for the film, don't expect much from him if you're seeing this movie as an Ed Harris fan. He's actually only in the film for about ten minutes total. I was very dissatisfied with this point. It would've been better had he not been in the trailer and we could've been surprised with his cameo role (which was done very well by the way). The same exact thing can be said for William Hurt's academy award nominated role. It's barely a supporting role. It's more of a cameo.
5) Which brings us to the cast in general. It couldn't have been cast any better. Simply spot-on performances by everybody; from the mobsters to the towns-folk; even the little girl who plays Tom's daughter.
6) The film's final 4 minutes are a testimony to what we all know our society ultimately is. Without a word, it will stun you. A big thumbs up for "A History of Violence."
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