A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

A History of Violence

October 10, 2011

A History of Violence

I bought this movie for a couple reasons. It had a cool looking preview with Vigo Mortensen and Ed Harris. It’s based on a comic book (and and as you know I buy everything that’s based on a comic book, be it worth while or not.) And as was often the case it was pre-viewed at the Blockbuster where I worked so I figured well, why not? As we watched the opening credits I was interested to see that it was directed by David Cronenberg, famous for making great horror movies in the eighties like the re-make of The Fly, Scanners and Videodrome. I was even more interested to see that the music was composed by Howard Shore, who created the amazing, vast, epic score for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is a movie about a man’s past catching up with him. Tom Stall is a simple man who owns a diner in the quiet middle America town of Millbrook. He has a wife and two children. He has a piece of crap pickup that won’t start. He is as completely typically all American as all get out. When a pair of completely cold blooded killers show up in his diner though and try to rob the place and threaten to kill his staff he lashes out, killing both of them. He’s all over the news after that, and a mob boss from Philadelphia shows up in town threatening him and his family because this boss thinks that Tom is Joey Cusack – the son of a rival mobster and an accomplished hit man.

Of course Mr. Fogarty is right. Tom Stall is Joey Cusack, or at least he was, and this movie is about what happens when his life of crime runs smack into his peaceful rural existence. He’s never told his wife, or his children, or anybody in town who he used to be, and when they start to figure it out it begins to tear them apart.

I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised by this movie. It wasn’t at all what the cool previews had led me to expect. I thought this was going to be a guns-a-blazing modern western with one man killing the entire Pennsylvania mob to protect his family. It’s not that movie though. Oh, sure, Tom does eventually kill a whole lot of guys, but it’s not a thrill-packed action adventure. Instead it’s a much more introspective look at the destructive nature of violence, though in the end I’m not sure what the moral is meant to be. It seems to ask if there’s a way to kill enough bad guys to earn the right to earn a peaceful life, but it doesn’t offer an answer to that question.

Rather than an over-the-top action film what Cronenberg delivers here is an intense character study. This is a movie about repercussions. It’s a movie about extreme violence that tries hard not to glorify it. For the most part I think it succeeds, too, and it’s thanks to some restrained direction (according to the trivia on IMDB Cronenberg edited heavily to keep the film more grounded in reality and less actiony. The success of the movie is also due to some fantastic performances. Vigo Mortenson is of course fantastic. I’ve come to expect a deep and nuanced performance out of him with what could have been relatively simple roles and he does not disappoint. Then there’s Ed Harris, who is wonderfully creepy as mob boss Carl Fogarty. Near the end of the film the always astonishing William Hurt shows up in a very short but Oscar nominated appearance as Joey’s made-man brother Richie. The most powerful performance in the movie, however, and the role that really drives the plot and makes the movie work is Maria Bello as Tom’s unsuspecting wife Edie. She is the one most tortured by the revelation that the man she married is not at all the man she thought he was, and Maria completely sells this powerful emotional story.

As for Howard Shore’s score, well it really does a great job of building the tension in the movie. If you’re paying attention (which I was) you can tell that it’s the composer of the Lord of the Rings score, but he reigns himself in in much the same way that Cronenberg does. This is not a bombastic or epic movie. It is a little intimate character study of a movie (with a couple cool action scenes.) Shore keeps the music simple, presenting us with a pleasant theme for Tom’s simple home life and a tense driving theme for Joey’s world.

My only complaint, aside from the one about this completely not being the movie I was expecting from the advertisements, is that Cronenberg lays it on pretty heavily at the start of the film when establishing just how idyllic Tom’s country home life is. We get to see a cute romantic sex scene between him and his wife. We see his daughter having a nightmare (and the whole family comforting her.) We see his son bullied at school. It’s almost excessively perfect. I know that Cronenberg is trying to stress just how much Tom has to lose, but by making it almost unbelievably wonderful he robs the film of some of its gritty realism. It brings the movie into a sort of heightened cinema reality that seems somehow less impactful.


October 10, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: