Blu-ray Review: A History of Violence

I still maintain the same opinion of this film I had when I reviewed it back in 2005 giving it a “B-” saying it was two-thirds good and one-third bad as “what begins as a taut, high-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.” Of course, I am in the minority on this, and so much so that the performance of William Hurt of which I did not like at all went on to be praised and ultimately nominated for an Oscar. So sue me, but that part of the story just didn’t work for me. However, this film is interesting enough that watching it for the first time on Blu-ray since seeing it in a theater almost four years ago was an enjoyable experience and this high-def upgrade comes with a nice collection of extras even if they are simply carried over from the DVD release.

A History of Violence centers on Tom Stall played perfectly by Viggo Mortenson. A small town diner owner with a wife (Maria Bello) and two kids whose past becomes questioned after he kills two would-be robbers, gains national attention and is ultimately visited by a Philadelphia man named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) who says Tom isn’t who he claims to be.

Filled with violence, sex, rage and revenge this film moves so fast that even though I am not a huge fan of its final act I just can’t stop watching because David Cronenberg’s direction doesn’t give you a chance to think otherwise. Starting off with an impressive one shot and ending with a tense family dinner the film never lets up and for that it is certainly worth a once over.

The features include a fascinating 65 minute look at the film breaking it up into eight “acts” labeled Random, American Hero, Bully, Eye for an Eye, Lies, Gangster Sex, Sibling Rivalry, and Hope. It is a fantastic and unique way of presenting the making of the film since it doesn’t feel like the typical half-assed featurettes you find on most home video releases. It feels like actual work and thought went into making it, which is really the best way to describe everything about the features on this release. The featurettes aren’t marketing pieces as much as they offer valuable information about the movie. Shocker!

Next is the “The Unmaking of Scene 44” feature which takes a look at a dream sequence that was shot and then cut from the film. Here you get the making of that scene and you can then watch the scene in its entirety. It’s an interesting feature considering I don’t believe so much time has ever been dedicated to talking about something that wasn’t put in the film. Even though the complete look lasts about ten minutes, it just adds to the fact these features really are about the making of the movie and not just pleasantries.

“Too Commercial for Cannes” is a cool little feature showing Cronenberg’s prep for debuting the film at the French fest, followed by “Violence’s History” which is a short, two-minute feature showing specific differences between the international cut of the film and the domestic cut. The final feature is Cronenberg’s commentary, which is a good listen, but it can get a bit pompous at times. I am a 50/50 guy on Cronenberg and don’t hail him as a God as so many do, but I certainly appreciate plenty of his films.

As for the audio and video quality, I have read around and many are upset at the noise reduction employed by Warner for this release. Personally I thought the picture looked great and the colors popped off the screen and the landscape looked lush and fully detailed. I don’t typically nitpick these things, but I will say an immense amount of grain can get to me at times, but I had no problems with this release. I enjoyed this transfer and thought the accompanying Dolby TrueHD track was equally impressive. Just know, some reviewers that are far pickier on video have found the transfer murky and somewhat flat resulting from overuse of digital noise reduction. I don’t know what they are complaining about and hope to never be so picky.

Overall this is a movie I wouldn’t recommend someone buy if they asked me for a quick answer, but to actually recommend or dissuade someone from a Cronenberg movie involves a much deeper inspection into what films you like. Does liking The Fly mean you will like this movie? No. How about Eastern Promises? Not really, although we are getting warmer. One thing’s for certain, if you are tired of the majority of crap you are seeing in the cinemas lately this is something to go against that grain and perhaps that alone is enough.

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