Film Reviews


By • Sep 30th, 2005 •

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New Line Cinema
No MPAA rating / 96 minutes

QUOTE: Psycho-sexual violent thriller by a master who returns to the depth and complexity he showed off in THE FLY and CRASH. Already one of my top favorites of 2005.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a hard working man who lives in Millbrook, Indiana with his lawyer wife, Edie (Maria Bello), and their two kids, bullied teenager Jack (Ashton Holmes) and elementary schooler Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Stall owns the local main street diner. He is meek and mild-tempered. Edie is the fiery one who wears the pants in the family. Edie is nice Tom’s hot wife with an education.

When two vicious killers turn up in his diner and prepare to kill the waitress first, Tom reacts swiftly and kills both of them. Tom is hailed a local hero and splashed all over national TV and newspapers. As Tom attempts to avoid the media onslaught, three men arrive at the diner and start calling him “Joey.” Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) has the demeanor of a hit man with a brooding grudge. He keeps telling Tom he is the man who scarred up half his face and drove wire into his eye. Tom is incredulous.

Edie immediately tells the men to get lost and calls Sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill). The sheriff does some background checking and finds out that Fogarty is a mob killer from Philadelphia. He’s very bad news, and what does he want with Tom?

Tom and Edie cannot make these guys go away or say anything to convince Fogarty he has the wrong guy. The violence escalates and so does the satisfying storyline that is not only engrossing but also psychologically rewarding.

Cronenberg gives the film a dark, pensive mood that draws you in. And there are plenty of non-verbal subtleties that Cronenberg gives the characters. This is the immense skill Cronenberg brings to the film. There are two sex scenes (fearless Bello is at it again) that give us misdirection, then strong clues to the real nature of character and genetics. Son Jack is also prominent in demonstrating that the DNA of the father does lie buried in the son. And so be it.

Mortensen is terrific and with one word and another gesture transforms himself.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is an adaptation of a classic graphic novel written by John Wagner with art by Vince Locke. Screenwriter Josh Olson has written strong dialogue and terrific pacing that results in a lot of after-viewing discussion.

I always wonder: When Madonna dreams, does she dream she is still in the misery of her Michigan upbringing and forced to give sexual favors to DJs? A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE asks the same question of Tom.

Harris and William Hurt (explaining his character would ruin the plot) are great as the killer-mobsters with personality to burn, and they bring the right vocal cadence to their characters. Why doesn’t anyone write great character parts for aging actresses? Isn’t there any actress willing to take the available title of “The Female Christopher Walken”?

Tom Stall: Viggo Mortensen
Edie Stall: Maria Bello
Richie Cusack: William Hurt
Carl Fogarty: Ed Harris
Jack Stall: Ashton Holmes
Sarah Stall: Heidi Hayes
Leland Jones: Stephen McHattie
Billy Orser: Greg Bryk
Sheriff Sam Carney: Peter MacNeill

Director: David Cronenberg
Screenwriter: Josh Olson
Producers: Chris Bender & JC Spink
Cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky
Production designer: Carol Spier
Editor: Ronald Sanders
Composer: Howard Shore

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