I’m guessing Cronenberg doesn’t really like diners all that much.
Viggo Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, a man who leads a quiet, charmed life with his loving wife (Maria Bello) and family in a small town. But when an unexpected incident turns bloody in his diner and brings unwanted attention to him, Tom is forced to return to his secret past in order to rescue his family from peril.
Director David Cronenberg is a dude that I haven’t been so fond of (‘A Dangerous Method’) and other times I have been fond of (‘The Fly’). This is just one of those flicks that somehow stands right in the middle but is definitely his most accessible since we don’t have to do with people getting it on to the sound of car crashes here.
The way Cronenberg opens this flick up with a deliberately slow pace really sets the bar for the rest of this film because it isn’t your normal, average thriller. See, this is more like a thinking-man’s thriller that just so happens to be directed by a nut-job like Cronenberg. Then when the film switches over to the whole happy film thing that this flick tries to get over towards us, my interest with this film started to wan very early on. I don’t know what it was that just was bothering me here but I think Cronenberg is so used to doing weird stories that when it comes to a simple story about a family, he doesn’t bring anything new to the table other than a bunch of dull, slow, and somewhat mindless conversations that don’t really move the film forward. That is until, the actual killing in this flick goes down.
Right when the murder in the diner happens, then that’s when shit really starts to fly off the handle, and I mean that in a very good way. There are a lot of opportunities for Cronenberg to use his dark-style for this flick considering that it’s rated-R and all of the sex, violence, and gore that he brings to this story as everything starts to pick up, actually works. There isn’t that much action in this flick but when it does actually happen, it’s gory, bloody, and just freaking awesome and it was pretty cool to see how Cronenberg could make each and every little scene of action turn into something we did not expect in the least bit. It’s definitely not a film for the squeamish but if you can at least appreciate a flick that knows how to put in a very over-the-top action scene without seeming “too strange” then it’s definitely a watch in my book.
Besides all of the action though, there is a lot that Cronenberg actually brings up about the whole reason of violence and when it should, and should not be used. The message here isn’t very clear since it seems like Cronenberg is against violence but then the next second he’s showing Aragorn bust some guy’s nose off, but if you can sort of get past this you can see that Cronenberg is more about violence in the use of self-defense as I am as well. Cronenberg is also able to supply some subtle touches of humor here as well that is good for a surprising chuckle here and there but when he seems to be more intentional with it, then I kind of got a bit annoyed.
Viggo Mortensen plays the nice guy Tom Stall, who seems like such a good and kind-hearted dude that when he actually starts to show signs that he is a huge psycho behind all of those smiles, it’s pretty realistic and works all of the better because Viggo can play good and bad both very well. Maria Bello is also very good as his wife with a role that got more screen-time than I was expecting but the scenes she has are pretty impressive considering she is able to be this strong house-wife that still comes off as this real person who may be a little good-looking to be stuck in Indiana. But then again, I have never been there so I don’t quite know how the women down there look.
Ed Harris gives that predictable devious performance that he usually gives here as the gangster Fogarty, but his performance is definitely over-shadowed by the one dude that got a nomination for his work in this flick. William Hurt shows up out-of-nowhere by the end of the flick with just about 9 minutes of screen-time but absolutely owns it bringing out all of this humor, creepiness, and just downright devilish side to his acting that we all knew he had, he just never showed it before. Hurt is great in this role and I think that he should have gotten more roles after this considering he reminded me a lot of what Christopher Walken has been doing for the past 20 years. Show up for about 5 to 10 minutes, but be the best part of the flick. That’s the way you got to do it.
All of these performers are great on-screen and make each and every single one of their scenes memorable, especially Hurt, but when it comes to the two kids here, the film starts to really lose its tension. Ashton Holmes plays the moping son here who is such a geek that he can only win his fights through words but for some odd reason when he is actually pushed to the limits, he beats the eff out of these two dudes which seemed way too realistic for me. I don’t care what seed you come from, nobody can beat the shit out of two dudes like this kid did and it’s also even worse considering that this kid’s acting is pretty shitty in the first place. I can’t really say anything bad about the other little girl that this family had since she was like 4 but you get what I’m trying to say.
Consensus: A History of Violence starts off slow and has its rough patches, but it also shows Cronenberg having a lot of fun with this material and inserting all of his crazy sex, violence, and gore into a story that works as an intellectual thriller and as a character study with great performances from the cast.