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I read through a lot of these comments, and it seems quite a few people who have given this film a bad rating based their judgment on either the sex scenes, or the gore (or both). Well, it's called "A History of Violence", and it's directed by David Cronenberg! What did they expect? The film is, simply put, amazing. Anyone who enjoys Cronenberg's other films will greatly appreciate this one. It speaks on many levels, and I suggest seeing it more than once to fully take it all in. Beautiful performances all around. I felt as though that is how people put in a situation like that would really act. I had a smile on my face the entire film because I have been waiting all summer (or longer) for a film of this caliber, and it was worth it.
I expected bloody senselessness and instead saw a film laden with the
deepest human emotions. It was real. From youthful loving to hard
violence, from simple innocent joys to the full depth of adult violence
and sex, and ultimate redemption, this film has it all. Every piece of
clothing and set, every camera angle and lighting propelled the story
relentlessly. I was never bored, and never overwhelmed with overdone
violence. Nothing was gratuitous. Viggo Mortensen proved he's one of
the finest actors to come along in a long while. Maria Bello carries so
much on her talented shoulders. With Mortensen she shines with
alternately warming and heartbreaking truthfulness. Ed Harris was
delightfully menacing, and William Hurt gave the liveliest and best
performance I've seen from him.
This movie is about truth and redemption. It's the best film I've seen in a very long time. Kudos to Cronenberg, Mortensen, Bello, and all the cast and crew for what was for me a nearly perfect movie.
See it, then see it again. It's brilliant.
This is, like all Cronenberg's work, a mythic movie. It occupies the world of "monsters" that Tom Stall's daughter dreams about at the start. It's as if we get to see the little girl's nightmare as the film unfolds. It's because of this poetic, super-real quality that criticisms from the "this isn't real life" brigade have no relevance. The screenplay is exceptionally tight and well-woven - no image is wasted. The subplot of the son's troubles with a school bully parallels the main plot. The very existence of the son is there to show the inheritance - the history - of violence. The sex scenes are there to show the proximity of lust and violence. The end can be nothing other than what it is: as someone else on IMDb has commented, the genie is out of the bottle. This is true for the family in the film, the society we see surrounding the family, and it's true for our families and our society. It's about the inexhaustible rage of humans. It couldn't be more relevant, it couldn't be more timeless. It is well acted and beautifully photographed. I have some minor reservations - did we really need so much of Howard Shore's music? - but on the whole I think this is a superb film. Not for the kiddies, however.
I saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival. All I have to say is: Wow. One of the best thrillers ever. It's refreshing to watch a film in genre that's so often full of clichés. Besides being a thriller, it also a smart film about the culture of violence. How it dominates our world. One of the questions the film asks whether one can live free of violence, even the slightest. In the film violence lurks in every corner and the characters are forced to defend themselves. Definitely my favorite Cronenberg film, also his most mainstream I might add. It's a modern Western and reminds one of those great Western films. As the title indicates it's a very violent film but guess it will be toned down as usual, specially the sex scene. All the stars are in peek form and perfectly cast. William Hurt makes a comeback to better roles. He was also great in "The King". It will and should get some awards at the end of the year from critics and etc.
Cronenberg's adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel places a
simple American family man, and his all-American family, into a new and
disturbing context which has them questioning everything they think
they know. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a little diner in a small
town and has a nice house on the outskirts of town, where he and his
wife Edie (Maria Bello) raise their two kids apparently living the
American dream in their own way. One day at the diner, two murderers
pop by at closing time for some cherry pie, and Tom's heroic defense of
his diner, his customers and himself sets off a series of events that
threaten his family, his sanity and his life. The eerie tension never
lets up in this powerful examination of identity, honesty and violence.
David Cronenberg has directed some of my favorite off-beat films - the masterpiece Naked Lunch, Scanners, Videodrome. I have watched these films many times and I still find them interesting. I can't really call myself a fan, however, because there are also just as many Cronenberg films out there which I found difficult to get through the first time (Crash, eXistenZ, Dead Ringers). Cronenberg enjoys creating disturbing situations and imagery, and wants to get under your skin and to stimulate your mind on as many levels as he can. In most cases, he pulls it off masterfully, but sometimes, his emphasis on the bizarre can come across as pretentious and forced.
Like a lot of very creative and intelligent people, Cronenberg sometimes leaves his signature virtually everywhere in his work. And sometimes, a director needs to make a film which does everything they want to accomplish but leaves off the signature. For example - the brilliant David Lynch showed us his ability to jump out of his own skin with Elephant Man and The Straight Story. These are still very much Lynch films, but they also appeal to the wider audience of mainstream cinema-goers. A History of Violence is, in some ways, Cronenberg's most straightforward film. A key to its success is that it is very easy to forget that you are watching a Cronenberg film, no matter how aware you are of Cronenberg's many quirks, idiosyncrasies and trademarks. It is so masterfully directed that, although the plot is not entirely unpredictable, you are right there in the action with the characters and feeling what they feel so that, though you may know what's next, you never exactly see it coming and you never know how it will take you there.
Viggo Mortensen, in his best mainstream role since Aragorn, and Maria Bello (one of the actors who made The Cooler worth watching), head an impressive cast in this adaptation of a Wagner and Locke graphic novel. Nobody in the cast slips up at all. The script is intense, realistic, and probably did nothing to make the performances easy. The plot, if described without the plot and the context created by the script, would seem somewhat absurd, but like Woody Allen's Match Point, it's absurdity does not make it impossible to believe. Editing, directing and pure performance combine to make flawless performances for this cast. Backed up by veterans Ed Harris and William Hurt, and very strongly supported by the excellent Maria Bello, Mortensen is shockingly excellent in a difficult role. I can't explain why without giving too much of the film away. Although the rest of the cast did exactly as they were supposed to, I want to single out Ashton Holmes - an actor I was completely unfamiliar with but who I will look out for in the future.
I recommend A History of Violence highly. It is one of my top five reasons for considering 2005 to have been a great year in North American film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the middle of the night young Sarah (Heidi Hayes) wakes from a
nightmare. Her father, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) comforts her saying,
"There are no such thing as monsters
" Director David Cronenberg's "A
History of Violence" questions whether human monsters are truly born or
trained to be so. Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince
Locke, Josh Olson's screenplay offers a provocative answer. Though for
Cronenberg and Olson , the power of "A History of Violence" lies in its
character study. Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall is commanding and
powerful as the center of this character piece. This is one the year's
Cronenberg creates the idyllic setting of a small Indiana town. Tom Stall (Mortensen) is a mild mannered and community respected family man. He has a loving and beautiful wife Edie (strong and smart Maria Bello). His daughter Sarah likes shopping for shoes. His teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is sucking as a baseball player and a target of bully Bobby (Kyle Schmid). Tom owns Stall's Dinner in town. Then one day ruthless killers (evil Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk) draw their guns in a robbery attempt at Tom's diner. Tom kills both like they are not even there. He dispatches them with awesome deadly force and brutality. His actions are warranted, and seemingly instinctive. Tom becomes a town and national hero. His photo even appears on CNN.
Soon after returning to work a mysterious man and his henchmen visit Tom in his diner. The man, Carl Fogerty (menacing Ed Harris), reveals a disfiguring injury and claims to know Tom, as Joey Cusack. Tom really does not seem to know Carl, and kindly asks him to leave. Things don't seem to add up regarding Tom. Carl later asks Tom's wife Edie "Why is he (Tom) so good at killing people." Cronenberg brilliantly lulls us in a sense of normalcy, then launches in a predetermined direction and tone. He hints at his answer with son Jack's explosive actions. Also his "A History of Violence" is a study of extremes, likely intentional. The violence is graphic controlled brutality, and merciless. The sex scene with Tom and Edie on the stairs is raw and erotic. Cronenberg also manages an unexpected resolution.
Viggo Mortensen is electrifying. He uses his classic good looks and understated charm to play the gentle family man Tom Stall. Mortensen also displays a powerful and explosive presence as Tom's darker persona. Mortensen is athletic and expertly performs the amazing martial arts and fight scenes. Maria Bello is awesome as Edie. Even with her glamor subdued she is stunning and sexy. Her Edie is strong willed enduring her own doubts regarding who her husband really is. Her reaction at the story's arc is both believable and heartbreaking. She and Mortensen have amazing chemistry. Ed Harris is calculated evil as Carl Fogerty. Newcomer Ashton Holmes is impressive as young Jack. His portrayal leads us to believe it maybe truly in the blood. William Hurt's turn in a pivotal role is unexpectedly shocking and completely effective.
Cronenberg has fashioned a fable about character and fate in "A History of Violence". This is one of the best movies of the year. Viggo Mortensen is simply powerful. "A History of Violence" is worth seeing and worthy of thought.
Leaving this film (just an hour ago now) I heard a phrase rolling over and over again in my head: "Wow. Wow". I cannot find adequate words to relate. I found myself saying "Why?...Oh my god!...How?...Wow...". The film touches, it festers, crawls all over and inside you. The film does (I think) what Cronenberg intended it to do; frighten. I'm speaking of real fear that is not spoken out loud, not discussed or screamed about,or even fully understood. The best and only word I have to describe the film is that it is "unsettling". I won't discuss the points relating to the sexuality of the film but will quickly address the violence. I read Cronenberg's answers to some questions raised by the film, most relating to the violence itself. He mentions that it is "intimate, nasty, brutish and quick" also going on at length on the utilitarian nature of the violent acts in the film. This is perhaps the first film I've seen to display violence in, what I consider to be, a true sense. It is over so quickly and before one can marvel at it, the guilt and terror washes over like waves in a storm. It's relatively refreshing, albeit downright sickening, to see a film that can still shock the hell out of what is thought to be a desensitized generation. That being said, one must remember that an author, poet, director etc. NEVER has the final say on what a book, poem or film's meaning is or what its symbols or set pieces are about. Each person in turn must have his or her take on the medium. I'd like to close with my final and wholly overriding thought concerning "A History of Violence": It is a film which I desperately wish to see again but equally compelling is the urge to never, ever see it again. Never have such strong yet equally conflicting views about something so trivial as a film entered my psyche. The rating of 10 is based on my personal experience with the film, not necessarily the merit of the film itself. You may interpret that as you will.
Yes, it made me think that if Jean Arthur Rimbaud had been a man of our times he could have been the one behind this film. Optimism through pessimism. The light of darkness. A contradiction that makes sense, that rings true. A mesmerizing film with a spectacular Viggo Mortensen. The truth is there for us to see it, the truth is going to be told but the truth has the flavor of a fantasy. It is the adopted life the invented one that is real. We're invited into this simple but startling reality guided by the masterful hand of David Cronenberg. The casting is a stroke of genius. Viggo Mortensen has the presence of an icon and yet he can disappear be invisible in the most magnetic way. Maria Bello, for me, a stunning surprise. I didn't know (I still don't) her work, I only remembered her name because she has an unforgettable name. But here she proves she's an actress of enormous emotional/dramatic resources. 2005 is not quite over yet but I bet "A History of Violence" will be among the two or three best films I've seen all year
I saw this film at a special screening in NYC on Tuesday. It is superb both in direction and acting. Both the sex and violent scenes are quick and direct. While the violence is quite graphic, as to be expected with Cronenberg, the camera does not linger on it at all. The real story is told through the emotional dynamics in the family as the plot unfolds. Mortensen's performance as Tom Stall is brilliant and wonderfully nuanced and the entire cast is first rate. Maria Bello as the wife and Ashton Holmes as the son and Ed Harris as the "heavy" are spot on. William Hurt's scene is a standout. There are moments in the film where you laugh and then are horrified within seconds. DC doesn't dumb down to the audience but enjoys the complexities of human reactions to issues of identity, violence and society's view of "good" versus "bad" violence. I still can't get this film out of my mind. I'm definitely planning on seeing it again when it opens widely. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How one views a movie often deals with one's approach to the film. I
made a mistake with this movie. I went in, having had difficulty
securing a Cronenberg movie before, waiting to get an introduction to
his style. I went in expecting, based on what I've heard about
Cronenberg, a stylized film. I came in expecting a theme.
I was mostly disappointed on all three marks. What I ended up with was a fairly straight-forward identity thriller, and that surprised me.
Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a docile man in a docile world. Viggo Mortensen's style of acting, judging by Lord of the Rings, Hidalgo, and this film, is to whisper when he's getting dramatic. This works well with the film in that everyone in it is either just as docile as Tom, or trying to be smooth and stoic, which involves an outward appearance of docility. Tom Stall owns a café, has a good family, has no worries but that he can't get his truck started. Then some violent criminals decide to mess with his coworkers during closing, and he shows a side of himself nobody (in the film) expected: the ability to kill with relative ease. So thus the audience is in the search for his identity, who he is, and where he came from.
This film started many things and decided to give them up. At first it seems a film to look into the undercurrent of violence in even the most domestic of communities. Then it seems to be a film of mistaken identity and bad fate. Then it just decides to be another story of a man escaping a past he didn't like, and finding out that he can't... as in, what we've seen many many times before.
But it's a Cronenberg film. This means that it's stylized, interesting, and special, right? Honestly, I saw nothing in this film that struck me particularly as "something only Cronenberg could do." Sure, there's some pretty detailed gore effects, but they're sporadic, random, and worst of all, not needed for anything. Sure, there's some strange sexual encounters, but they don't really seem as anything except for sex, they don't develop the characters, they don't add anything to the story, they just exist in a sort of acceptable state of "Well, might as well find a way to show these characters having sex." They do reveal that Viggo Mortensen doesn't have that great of a body, if anybody cares about that.
Speaking of the writing, indeed, it doesn't seem real care or interest was put into the script. Nothing particularly new is given us, the dialog could have been cut and pasted in any other movie of this genre, and the character development was, again, straight-forward and unappealing.
As I mentioned before, I thought a large part of the lethargy in this film had something to do with the theme of violence as an undercurrent, but my mistake was thinking there was a theme. Even during moments when the action starts to pick up, it feels like the actors are really just sleep-walking through their roles. Only Ed Harris seemed to have any fun at all, everything else about this movie seems as though Cronenberg forced the cast and crew to stay awake for 24 hours before filming began to make everything seem lazy. Even the cinematography seems lazy after the wonderful long take at the beginning. However, stuff like the close-ups never really added to drama but more made me frustratingly want to take the director's chair and say, "All right, move back a couple of feet, give us some room!" It's not a bad film. It's just that the ending credits came up after an exhaustingly long ending sequence of no importance and I couldn't help asking, "Oh? So what?" This film is a good film to have some fun over the weekend with, but it's not really anything that can stick with you.
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