|A History of Violence (2005)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt
Director: David Cronenberg
Based on the DC comics graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, “A History of Violence” is not exactly what you’d expect from director David Cronenberg. It’s probably his most accessible picture to date, but it’s also a fine piece of American cinema that delivers a much-needed commentary on the affects of violence on society. With so many big-budget action movies flopping at the box office this past summer, it’s crazy to think that a quaint genre film like “A History of Violence” would handle its action sequences with the most panache.
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a small town restaurant owner with a beautiful wife (Maria Bello) and two kids, but when he effortlessly kills a pair of thieves that assault his diner, he becomes a media-hailed American hero overnight. As the excitement dies down and Tom’s life is restored back to normal, three men in black suits enter his diner accusing him of being someone else. Led by East Coast mobster Carl Fogerty (Ed Harris), the men claim that Tom is, in fact, Joey Cusack, a former member of the same crime syndicate who fled Philadelphia to begin a new life. His older brother Richie (William Hurt) is now a powerful member of the syndicate and wants to see Joey one last time before exacting his revenge.
"A History of Violence" does a brilliant job of jumping into streaks of extreme violence with no problem, but what’s unsettling about the process is that it’s probably not as jolting as it should be. The violence is never hyperbolized, and yet when the tranquil Tom quickly attacks his enemies, it feels strangely surreal. The fantastic nature of the movie is only further amplified by a subplot involving his son’s (Ashton Holmes) reaction to Tom's unexpected spurts of violence, but by the time the story comes full circle, its authenticity remains intact.
Both Mortensen and Harris deliver adequate performances as the story’s two male leads, but Hurt’s supporting role is far more entertaining. Still, the strength of the film ultimately lies in the hands of Cronenberg, who manages to take classic Western archetypes and spin them into an engaging movie about modern-day violence. Cronenberg’s carefully crafted characters could just as well be action heroes in the same summer movies that forfeit emotional depth for bigger explosions, but perhaps the attention to detail is exactly what separates “A History of Violence” as a piece of cinematic excellence.
The single-disc release of David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” features an awesome selection of special features, including a director commentary that, despite overflowing with interesting facts, is seriously lacking in personality. The three featurettes, on the other hand, are all excellent, including a comparison between the U.S. and international versions, a brief look at the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival, and an impressive, 65-minute making-of that covers just about every aspect of production. Rounding out the bonus material is a deleted dream sequence and a short "unmaking" of that scene.