History of Violence
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
I am notoriously
squeamish about movie violence. It takes a lot to get me to see
violent movies, even critically acclaimed ones. Ask anyone who
was with me when I saw such acclaimed films as Silence of the
Lambs, Pulp Fiction, or Saving Private Ryan. I’m quick to
close my eyes or turn away when the blood starts to flow!
Needless to say, I would not normally be drawn
to a movie like A History of Violence. However, it has received
some of the best reviews of the fall season. So I psyched myself
up for it, and anxiously took my seat in the theater.
Violence is the story of a serene family in a small
Midwestern town. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a small diner
and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) is a lawyer. Their two children
include teenage Jack, hounded by bullies in school, and the younger
Sarah who, prophetically, dreams of monsters.
Their idyllic life comes screeching to a halt one
evening when a couple of brutal thugs try to rob the diner. Tom
dispatches them in a way that leads everyone to wonder about him.
How could this quiet, peaceful guy have handled the two thugs
the way he did? Is there something about Tom we don’t know?
Director David Cronenberg, known for such horror
films as The Fly and Dead Ringers keeps the story going in a straightforward
manner. It’s a relief to see a movie without gimmicks or
special effects. At the heart of the movie is a mounting suspicion
and doubt. You think you know someone so well, and then, suddenly,
you don’t know. Early on, Tom says he’s just about
the luckiest man on earth. How quickly one’s world can change!
Does History live up to its stellar reviews? On
the whole, I’d say no. It is not especially suspenseful.
There are no big surprises. If you’ve seen the previews,
you probably can guess how everything will turn out. And, as I’m
sure you’re wondering by now, what about the violence? There
are four or five scenes which are pretty bloody. Poor Tom gets
splattered with blood on more than one occasion. And, yes, I did
turn away from the screen more than once.
the movie is not without its merits. The most memorable scenes
are not the violent ones, but the family scenes. A tender, playful
lovemaking scene between Tom and Edie early on stands in sharp
contrast to an ugly sex scene late in the film. In a fine cast,
Maria Bello is especially good. Her body language when she is
around Tom changes visibly from love to suspicion to revulsion.
Cronenberg saves the best scene for last. It takes place in total
silence around the kitchen table, as the family decides, after
their lives have been torn apart, how they will go on. Even though
my reaction to A History of Violence is mixed, I admit that I
can’t get the ending out of my mind. In the midst of so
much violence around us, how do we, as individuals, families,
and communities, proceed? The night before I saw this film, I
attended a silent vigil commemorating the 2000th American killed
in Iraq. Like the Stall family, we gather in silence and determine
who we are and how our own history of violence will shape us.
Tom Condon, OP
Drama Release Date Sept.
Running Time 96 minutes
MPAA Rating R - for strong brutal
violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use