Willa's Flic Pic: History of Violence ½*
A History of Vilence
2004, David Cronenberg
Tom Stall:I'm here to make peace. Can I do anything to make things right?
Richie Cusack: You can do one thing.
[pauses] You can die.
Richie Cusack: Jesus, Joey.
[Tom/Joey shoots him.]
Tom Stall: [standing over the body] Jesus, Richie
(I like doing reviews without revealing any spoilers. Be warned that this review does contain SPOILERS.)
You may know Cronenberg from Scanners, The Dead Zone, The Fly or, more recently, Crash. The Dead Zone is a great film. I haven’t seen the other three (although I'm a big Jeff Goldblum fan).
A History of Violence was nominated for almost 50 awards, covering every category, from various organizations including the Golden Globes, Cannes, BAFTA and the Academy Awards.
My Geek and I both hated this movie. I just don’t see where these awards came from. I had trouble justifying the ½ star I gave it. I think maybe it’s because we finished the movie and didn’t turn it off.
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of the Rings and Hidalgo) owns a neighborhood restaurant in small town Indiana. He lives in a nice ranch house with his sweetheart wife, masculine-deprived teenage son, and a Welch's-grape daughter.
Deranged armed robbers attempt to terrorize and rob Tom's restaurant and patrons. It's obvious from their introduction at the opening of the film that the sociopaths do not intend to leave anyone alive. In a great, split-second action sequence (which is ruined by an overly long shot on a bleeding head), Tom disarms and kills both skilled goons. Visibly at this point you see "Uh-oh" cross Tom’s face. Everyone in the restaurant is caught between "Thank God" and "Did he just do what we think he did?".
The incident gets national coverage and unwanted attention by Tom. Soon a mobster, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), comes out from Philly to confront Tom as being a rival mob killer, Joey Cusack, with whom he’d like to exercise a little revenge. Tom denies being Joey Cusack or ever having been to Philly. Carl's harassment eventually forces Tom into not only admitting that he is Joey Cusack but also killing Carl and his hinchmen in front of his family.
Many of the rave reviews I read emphasized the story and characters. They didn’t review this as an action film but as a study on how the exposure of our secrets by some catalyst like violence affects our relationships and us.
"as a crackling sense of visual tension"
"explosive power and subversive wit"
"finely wrought and intelligent" 
I think this film wanted to be important but failed and nothing the reviewers say can make it so. There are just too many ridiculous and irreconcilable distractions.
First of all, the time line doesn't make sense. Tom and Edie (Maria Bello) have been married for 20 years. Tom says that it took him "20 years to forget Joey". That's 40 years before we count the years that Tom lived an effective criminal life. Mortensen is not even 50 and they didn't bother aging him in the film at all. Unless Tom is a murderous criminal at 10, his age causes confusion. Since we are supposed to be reconciling who Tom really is and if it's possible he's Joey Cusack, this information is not merely cursory.
From reading reviews I learned that violence is a signature element of Cronenburg's films. But the long drawn out shots of gore came off like a "B" teen slasher. It just felt awkward. I understand the need for the violence but this was so misused it distracted from the point of the situation. For example, when a man is shot through the head you are shocked at the level of unexpected violence. It comes from nowhere and you begin to contemplate its affects. But when the camera moves in close and lingers on the big bleeding hole in the head, you’re not thinking these things any more; you're thinking, "Ooh, look at that big bloody hole in the head."
During the armed robbery Tom is stabbed in the foot. The next day Edie drives him to work when previously he had walked. (This is the same day that Carl shows up in the restaurant accusing him of being Joey Cusack.) You get the impression it is a long way to work. The next day Tom gets up extra early and walks into work! Huh?
But wait, there's more. The day Tom walks to work, he looks out the storefront window and sees Carl sitting in his car and then driving away. In fear that Carl is going home to murder his family, what does Tom do? He hobbles all the way home! It would be completely logical for Tom to call the police. He has a good relationship with them. If he's really convinced that Carl will harm his family, don't you think he would have done something, anything faster than trying to run home with a stabbed foot!
There's more but that's enough. I will admit that the closing scene caught me by surprise. I was on pins and needles as to how it was going to play out. It was touching, tense and creepy. Sorry I can't be more specific than that. Although I've treated this film viciously, I won't be so crude as to reveal the ending.
Labels: Movie Reviews