A History of Violence is 66-percent good and 33-percent bad, and don’t ask me where that other 1-percent is because I just don’t know. What begins as a taut, hung strung thriller that keeps you on pins and needles turns into a choppy and inexplicably humorous film before returning to the distressing storyline it left only 30 minutes earlier.
Viggo Mortensen turns in a fantastic performance as Tom Stall, a happily married man living in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana with his beautiful wife (Maria Bello) and two children. Owner of a small diner in town Tom’s life is a picture of perfection, almost stomach churning perfection at times, but all that is about to change as picking up garbage in front of his diner will become the least of his worries. It is what is about to happen inside the diner that will draw all the attention.
When two men enter through the front door Tom’s life is about to change. Attempting to rob the diner with brutal force and guns drawn something is triggered in the back of Tom’s mind and his mysterious past is brought into the limelight. Tom dispenses of the two men with ease, emptying bullets to the body and face the robbers are left for dead and Tom is hailed a hometown hero as his face makes the rounds on the national news. Who would have thought that an act of heroism could stir up so much trouble?
Enter Carl Fogaty (Ed Harris) a man from Philadelphia who believes Tom is not the simple man he claims to be; in fact he doesn’t believe he is Tom at all. As the gun smoke clears acts of heroics are pushed aside and Tom and his family soon find themselves struggling between right and wrong in this physically, sexually and emotionally brutal tale and if it wasn’t for one misstep this would be a huge hit.
I don’t want to giveaway the ending by any stretch so I can’t exactly go into where the film goes wrong because it is in the 20 minutes leading up to the end that had me so frustrated, but once those 20 minutes are over it returns to the complicated and conflicted family dynamic that was torn apart earlier in the feature.
On a positive note, as I mentioned earlier, Viggo Mortensen turns in a wonderful performance as our leading man. So much is demanded of his character with dramatic emotional ups and downs, yet he manages to stand out, even when his co-stars seem to be faltering, namely William Hurt. Hurt does exactly just that; he “hurt” this film in every way imaginable. He is given a role that he simply can’t pull off, he can’t even see past the script far enough to begin playing this role and it is a damned shame.
On an alternate note, Maria Bello does manage to keep audience interest as Tom’s wife, Edie Stall, whose character is forced into just as dramatic emotional tolls as Tom, yet from the feminine perspective. Bello is the female voice in a masculine feature, a feature filled with violence and gore, yet her performance manages to steer the emotions in the opposite direction when necessary, but the other blip on the Violence radar are her kids.
Now I am not talking about Bello’s real-life child, rather the two youngsters playing her children in the film. Now I know tearing into child actors is not exactly the moniker of good film criticism, but these two just didn’t do it for me and their time on screen seemed so forced that the realism seemed to drain a bit in a film that had a high sense of it.
A History of Violence follows a simple plot and has its share of cliche moments. I have already mentioned there is a 20 minute tangent that keeps this movie from being an “A” feature but I do think it is a tangent that 50-percent of the audience won’t mind, some of you may actually find it refreshing for a moment, but it just didn’t fit the bill in my case.
Director, David Cronenberg certainly isn’t afraid to take his violence to the next level and he does that again with this movie as he mixes the violence and emotion to such a level several will consider it disturbing, but all-in-all I found it to be a breath of fresh air in a world where watered down features have become all to traditional. What’s the matter with a little blood anyway? Why not show a man’s face completely torn off as one final cough escapes his body? Yeah gore fans you will have a chance to see it all in A History of Violence, just be ready for a few plot twists and turns that may do the same thing to your opinion of the movie.