"A History of Violence"...a review by Gary Chew
Cronenberg, for me, is the maker of one of the most disgusting films ever released: "Crash." (Not to be confused with the more recent and superb "Crash" by Paul Haggis.) Cronenberg's "Crash" in some ways is like the current "The Aristocrats." You know, with something in it to gross out everyone who sees it.
"A History of Violence" is good, and unless you're exceedingly sensitive to violence in a motion picture, which most Americans aren't, I'm guessing you'll be taken with this film about a small town businessman who shoots dead two men as they try to rob his diner and kill some of his patrons.
Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, a happily married man with two children and a loving wife, Edie, played by Maria Bello. (It was Bello who was William H. Macy's wow of a main squeeze in "The Cooler.") Stall's shooting of the two vicious would-be robbers/killers in his eatery is pounced on by the 24-hour-a-day news hole people. Soon, Tom is to folks in his small Indiana town what New York City firemen are to survivors of 9/11.
Following Tom's sudden fifteen minutes of fame, some not-so-small-town folks take a grim interest in him. These guys are from Philly. And they believe that Tom Stall is really somebody else. Would you believe a mobster-hitman, like these very good fellas who've just swung into Tom and Edie's quiet little family life with all the bucolic trimmings?
Oh boy! What an entrance Ed Harris makes into Stall's diner. His Carl Fogaty might cause Tony Soprano to twitch momentarily, as Harris' character removes his shades to reveal a scarred cheek and one blind eye. Carl and his henchmen are convinced that Tom Stall is the guy who caused the injuries to the gangster many years ago back in Philly. From behind the counter, Tom pours them coffee and tells them, "You've got the wrong guy!"
I really can't tell you much more about the story, and you probably know why. You've got to see it for yourself. And this complicates my writing about "A History of Violence," because to point out one thing in the story which should be discussed, gives away too much. This is just about the only constraint I put on myself reviewing films. Suffice it to say, some of the problem lies in the way Mr. Mortensen portrays his character. And that leads me to the other flaw I find in this new Cronenberg movie.
The main cast is superb, Mr. Mortensen notwithstanding. Bello and Harris, as well as the child actors in the roles of Tom and Edie's kids are great. And did I mention William Hurt? I can't really say much about his character for the same reason I can't be specific about the little problem I'm having. Just know that either or both Harris and Hurt could be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. James Gandolfini, move over just a smidgen, please.
Viggo, although a striking figure and an obvious woman's man, is rather wooden in his Tom role. If you will, internal acting is required for this character in order for the film to avoid cheating a bit on the moviegoer. The slight dishonesty, however, is not any reason to not see "A History of Violence," unless, as I said, you can't get ready for a really good story that includes some gore and dying of bad guys, or a couple of non-revealing trysts: one tender, the other violent and ironic. Had either Harris or Hurt taken on the leading man character, which either could emote more convincingly, I think the surprises in this film would seem more genuine.
Sorry for being so oblique, but I do want you to get your money's worth.
Gary Chew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.