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Overall Rating
4.02

Awesome45.56%
Worth A Look: 27.78%
Average: 16.67%
Pretty Bad: 3.33%
Total Crap: 6.67%

16 reviews, 84 user ratings


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History of Violence, A
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Cronenberg's continuing autopsy of nature's most violent species."
5 stars

In 'A History of Violence,' brutality hurts and has sickening consequences in a way it hasn't in any American movie since 'Unforgiven.' Men expire inconveniently, gurgling face-down in their own blood on a diner floor; they get pounded in the face until the nose effectively disappears in a smear of cartilage and ripped skin.

The movie, however, sets up situations in which we want, need, the killing and maiming to happen. The tension builds in a slow boil, then ignites furiously when we're not quite ready for it. Man is a violent species, and director David Cronenberg, who has spent thirty years studying that species in such films as Dead Ringers and The Fly, implicates his audience and himself in the violence, as he did in 1982's grotesque Videodrome. The theme of the movie could be: Killing feels good until it's over -- then what do you do?

The mystery of the film, adapted loosely from a mediocre 1997 graphic novel by John Wagner (writer) and Vince Locke (artist), is whether small-town diner owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) -- an aw-shucks guy to all appearances -- is hiding dark and bloody secrets from his past. One night, a couple of thieves and thrill-killers invade Tom's diner. (Aside: Suzanne Vega's song of the same name -- I am waiting at the counter/For the man to pour the coffee -- will take on inadvertent macabre humor after this film.) Tom dispatches them with suspicious ease, is crowned a local media hero, and attracts the attention of shadowy men led by a scarred Ed Harris (dropping his usual intensity and coming across all the more frightening), who seems convinced that Tom is actually a man named Joey Cusack, from back in Philly. We assume that Joey, whoever he is, wasn't a kindly city hot-dog vendor or puppy breeder.

Cronenberg isn't terribly interested in artificial mysteries, though. Nor is he all that impressed with the novel's emphasis on mob connections. What he's after is simple: Is the human machine hard-wired for violence, and what happens when the machine tries to rewire itself? Tom, played by Mortensen with effortless precision in moments both cruel and gentle, is a classic movie figure -- the man capable of ghastly carnage who has chosen a peaceful path until circumstances force his hand. In Cronenberg's hands, this neo-western becomes a meditation on the essence of all those movies. Family life (civilization) is nurturing; killing is exciting. But switch "killing" with "going to strip clubs" or the disreputable bachelor pastime of your choice, and you have a metaphor for how a man changes -- or doesn't -- when he opts for the credibility of wife and children.

A great deal of the movie's impact depends not on Viggo Mortensen but on Maria Bello, who should be ready to take over the planet any day now. She plays Tom's wife Edie, a lawyer who, I think, was attracted to safe homespun Tom and his small-town life and moved away from city stress (her voice still has an urban cadence; Tom has an Indiana drawl that eventually slides into something more threatening and razory). Edie finds Tom exciting, going so far as to recreate the innocent devirginizing neither of them really had, fantasizing being a cheerleader in bed with her quarterback boyfriend. The first of the movie's sex scenes is warm and playful (unusual for Cronenberg); the second, a thrashing and bruising event on a stairwell after Edie discovers the truth about Tom, is considerably uglier, more disturbing, and -- this being a Cronenberg film -- more erotic. Bello performs in both scenes, and everything in between, with deeply committed delicacy. We believe in her love and her revulsion.

A History of Violence is of a piece with Cronenberg's other work, though it seems to offer easier catharsis (but doesn't really). A confrontation late in the movie between Tom and a bad man played with cool, self-amused malevolence by William Hurt is played out almost as drawing-room comedy, with the violence no longer painful because we're now in a world where life is meaningless. Ultimately, we find Tom at the dinner table with his son -- who seems infected with his father's virus of swift retributive force -- and his little daughter and Edie, and volumes of the unspoken pass between man and wife.

That's the movie's true mystery, and the one Cronenberg prefers to leave us with: Then what do you do?

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12761&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/30/06 03:25:21
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User Comments

1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Hitman becomes cook in diner. You want fries with that? 4 stars
12/05/08 P. Yew Someone in the theatre I was in farted and stunk up the whole place. 1 stars
11/26/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
6/11/08 PAUL SHORTT A FLAWED AND UNIMPRESSIVE MEDITATION OF VIOLENCE 1 stars
1/21/08 Wendell O. Maness John Gotti was a wimpy loser- wormfood now! Ha ha! 3 stars
10/29/07 mr. mike Better than expected. Ed Harris is amazing 4 stars
7/29/07 john anthony Loses its way in the last 1/3. Should have stayed in Indiana 3 stars
7/21/07 Harry Cronenberg is the worst movie maker in the world 1 stars
7/20/07 Jennifer What th fok was that! Sheer nonsense! Absolutely pointless! 1 stars
7/07/07 AnnieG Much too predictable; too little plot. 3 stars
5/22/07 R.W. Welch Doesn't quite ring true at times but shows some style. B- 4 stars
5/17/07 ES Enjoyable, depicts sex and violence on a satisfying scale 4 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold People rightly say that it's "multi-layered"; but damnit, aren't all films? 3 stars
1/26/07 kris It is a bit naive and overrated. But obviously tricked many, including pro film critics. 3 stars
12/17/06 Trey Thought provoking and truly dramatic. Great movie. 5 stars
12/15/06 T. McGregor This movie draws you in then implicates the audience in the gruesome violence. Brilliant. 5 stars
12/06/06 Adrian A masterpiece. Nails everything. 5 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Dark and troubling. Terriffic acting across the board. 4 stars
8/18/06 Seanboy A fantastic meditation on violence in our culture, superb performances 5 stars
8/14/06 Cosmic Conundrum Total Crap. Exhibits characteristics of a badly made Hindi Film. 1 stars
7/21/06 Frank Rountree Total crap says it all. Doesn't live up to the hype. 1 stars
7/19/06 Reklc Great acting, graphic violence- so what if the story is a bit bogus. 5 stars
7/17/06 mark incredible-leaves much to the viewer's interpretation and implication 5 stars
7/13/06 ad "The meaning" is way overblown. Shooting spree with no big surprises 2 stars
7/04/06 seldomscene do not read the reviews, it gives the plot away,watche it cold 5 stars
5/05/06 Indrid Cold A metaphor for America losing its innocence? That probably gives David too much credit. 3 stars
5/01/06 Agent Sands One of the most well-made films of 2005...or 2006. 5 stars
4/18/06 Jessica not bad, abit over rated, didnt like the ending , but ok for a night in with a pizza. 4 stars
4/10/06 Jung Texican Grossly overrated. "Experts" again assign profound meaning to an empty film - top 20 worst 1 stars
3/29/06 mike if a coffe shop gets robbed, don't be a hero or u lose ur secret identity! 3 stars
3/28/06 Y2mckay good acting, good action, but way WAY over-hyped 4 stars
3/21/06 Jon Makes you think... and awesome acting 5 stars
3/21/06 Peter The whole thing is as awkward and empty as the first sex scene. 2 stars
3/19/06 Monday Morning Nothing special about this flick. Very missable. 3 stars
3/17/06 matt overhyped, not as interesting as people say but still worthwhile. 4 stars
3/15/06 Rocky I really dug this flick, not a wasted moment in it and very thought provoking 4 stars
3/15/06 Shannon Robles cronenberg does it again! 5 stars
3/13/06 john bale Never overcomes its source material a comic, its too over the top to be taken seriously. 3 stars
3/11/06 jack different but doesn;t keep the interest up 4 stars
3/10/06 matthew smith a very impressive film, great performances 5 stars
3/10/06 Sumixam Not as good as they say but kills 1.5hrs ok 4 stars
2/21/06 Agent Sands CRONENBERG'S GREATEST MOVIE YET. POSSIBLY THE BEST OF 2005. 5 stars
1/19/06 ASC Excellent 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint A frightening portrayal of a trapped man's inability to escape his predetermined fate 5 stars
12/05/05 Jeff Anderson David Cronenberg's strongest film to date & brilliant! Mortensen & Bello are OUTSTANDING!!! 5 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Cronenberg is a modern miracle. He's nothing short of genious. 5 stars
11/21/05 qemm the plot worth of a 70s kung-fu movie... movie about nothing 3 stars
11/09/05 Alice very very overrated, nothing new and even boring. 1 stars
11/07/05 K. Sear Reasonable but not as good as everyone is claiming. 4 stars
10/28/05 Aaron Smith Good film, fine performances by Bello and Mortensen. 5 stars
10/27/05 TOYAN DAVIS GOOD MOVIE TO ILLUSTRATE THE POWER OF LOVE 3 stars
10/27/05 deadwiz Pretty decent flick, pretty graphic too! 4 stars
10/26/05 Sean Worst movie Ive ever seen. I know NO ONE who liked this 1 stars
10/26/05 Nick_Voro Part boring, cliche, and captivating. In the end a very interesting film but very overrated 4 stars
10/22/05 Christine FIdance Very glad to see Cronenberg back on his game, excellent acting, great movie! 5 stars
10/19/05 Sarah The most trite, poorly executed and absolutely pointless film I've seen. 1 stars
10/19/05 B-dog Bad acting,depressing, fake 1 stars
10/19/05 jeff good acting, simple story, bad ending, loved it 5 stars
10/17/05 Marc Bauman Excellent, unsettling 5 stars
10/17/05 Cinemaniac On the surface, it might look like a thriller, but it's really a meditation on identity... 5 stars
10/15/05 ROY L. CAIN JR. The legacy of Charles Bronson lives on. 5 stars
10/13/05 Koitus Good movie; better than most of the other cr@p that is out there! 4 stars
10/13/05 spielberg Very violent movie, psychologic plot just too thin 2 stars
10/12/05 Elizabeth S Pretty brutal. Actually quite a simplistic story but told well. 4 stars
10/11/05 b compact, no wasted film, excellent 5 stars
10/11/05 Ole Man Bourbon Cronenberg's worst. Ridiculous story, Viggo is a total dullard. Why the hype? 2 stars
10/10/05 bill crappy, pretentious, unlikely. no one in the theater I was in liked it, one bit. 1 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands Perfect. A masterpiece in all departments. Timeless, timeless, timeless. 5 stars
10/07/05 kanye excellent film - could have been helped by a better ending. 4 stars
10/07/05 Louise McChrystal a little too much violence, but still a very well played movie 4 stars
10/06/05 Steve Michaud Wow. Simply... wow. 5 stars
10/05/05 ASF Overrated, cartoonish, lacks depth. Director was not up to the material. 3 stars
10/04/05 Elizabeth S Good performances, powerful, brutal film 4 stars
10/04/05 isawthismovie good idea for a movie but very poor execution of the idea 2 stars
10/03/05 laura gonzalez one of the best movies of the year! 5 stars
10/03/05 Patti Hughes I love this film twice. It is wonderful 5 stars
10/02/05 viggo mortenson did you people work on this movie? i can go online or on oxygen to find near porn whenever. 2 stars
10/01/05 astrotart Primo acting with a great story with just enough sex, violence and drama.. 5 stars
10/01/05 Suzz well-acted but predictable reformed mobster film less the final scene 4 stars
10/01/05 Kristina Williams That second sex scene....WHOA. 5 stars
10/01/05 The Criddler Cronenberg = Filmmaking God 5 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Cronenberg's superb, transgressive meditation on violence's multiplicity of forms; graphic 5 stars
9/25/05 James Laczkowski Best Film of 2005 so far. Riveting, disturbing and suprisingly funny. Hurt rules 5 stars
9/13/05 Alex Brisbourne Possibly Cronenberg's best: great acting, good script, violence is a little much! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  23-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  09-Mar-2006


Directed by
  David Cronenberg

Written by
  Josh Olson

Cast
  Viggo Mortensen
  Maria Bello
  William Hurt
  Ed Harris
  Ashton Holmes
  Heidi Hayes



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