Saturday, October 08, 2005

A History of Violence

2005, US, directed by David Cronenberg

It's not often that you come across a movie that has few truly adequate points of comparison. That's perhaps because Cronenberg does such an extraordinary job of marrying two utterly different kinds of film: a viscerally gripping thriller, and a thought-provoking art movie that forces us to confront just what it is we enjoy about those visceral kicks, making us complicit, in a way, in the violence that shatters events onscreen. A History of Violence is also a brilliant riff on the Hollywood vision of smalll-town American life, the kind of dissection that perhaps only a foreigner - even a Canadian - could pull off. The little town where Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives is set up as an idyll, peaceful and beautiful, where everyone knows one another. Then men of violence come to town and Tom's method of dealing with them forces at least some people to wonder whether, in fact, they know anything at all about their friend.

Mortensen is perfectly cast, his mask slipping in slow, startling fashion, as the audience, too, attempts to reconcile Tom's salt-of-the-earth present with his dark past; Maria Bello plays his wife with a kind of ferocity that perfectly captures the maelstrom that threatens to engulf her family, while the supporting players are generally on the money, even if William Hurt chews the scenery just a little. Cronenberg's direction is carefully controlled, peeling each layer off the onion quite deliberately. Adapted from a comic book, the film has something of that medium's immediacy: there's no wasted time here, each well-composed shot advancing the action in graphic style; several brief shots evoke comic book art quite explicitly, without proving a distraction. Most of all, A History of Violence is a fully adult movie, which demands reflection, and which refuses to gloss over complex, contradictory emotions.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States