A History of Violence

Director: David Cronenberg

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

As in his understated Spider (2002), David Cronenberg once again skirts the commercial mainstream but with enough of his artful visionary horror background to not become ordinary.

Viggo Mortenson is Tom, a small town family man with a teenage son (Ashton Holmes) & a loving wife (Maria Bello). One day two vicious killers walk into his diner & to save the life of his employees, Tom goes into vicious action, going from small town dad to regional superhero overnight.

Alas, people are watching the news who have a pretty sound idea of how Tom Regular Joe Stall could have the skills & instincts of killer.

A History of ViolenceChilling mobsters (Ed Harris & William Hurt) show up in town & change life for Tom & his family forever. These guys know him as a Philadelphia gangster, a man capable of ripping out an enemy's eye with a length of barbed wire & thinking nothing of it.

That was a man Tom spent three years in seclusion suppressing, rebuilding a new persona for himself. Now he has to reconnect with the man he used to be in order to save his family.

But will they still be his family once his incredibly dark side is fully revealed to his wife & son? That's the question that provides a story with gory FX with greater depth & emotional realism than is typical of violent tales.

One stunning symbol of the change inevitable within his family is Tom & Edie's sex life before & after she knows so much about him. He has always been a gentle lover, just as he has always been gentle in all things. Now Edie is so angry to find she lives with a completely different person than she believed she knew, her own lust becomes angry, & he responds with a kind of romantic brutality.

It was hot sex for both of them, but never before had their love for one another contained anything resembling a disturbing aspect. Even if Tom manages to save his family physically, change cannot be undone. It seems unlikely life can ever go back to what it was.

Tom's ultimate enemy is his brother back in Philly, who to reinstate himself in the good graces of the mob has to kill his own blood. This complexly villainous figure is played by William Hurt, an actor I rarely like this much, but he makes a stunning villain.

By the time the tale has run its course, his family will never be able to look at him as that same quiet peaceable husband & father. The final silent & nearly static sequence with Tom's family at the kitchen table is one of the best scenes I've ever seen for ambiguous yet emotional impact, commingling hope & hopelessness for this formerly idyllic family's ability to rebuild something close to what they had.

Some might lament the loss of a more exploitatively inclined horror genius going semi-mainstream with a straightforward mobster drama. But if Cronenberg's quest for wider mainstream appeal results in more films as good as this one, then he should keep at it.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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