Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A History of Violence

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, 2005)

Millbrook, Indiana is the picture of idyllic small town America that exists in Norman Rockwell paintings and TV sitcoms of the 1950s. In A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, trouble enters this peaceful burg when two criminal outsiders slink into a diner and try to rob it. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), the soft-spoken diner owner, saves the day when he kills the bad guys in defense of his employees and customers.

Naturally the incident attracts a lot of attention from local media, but it also catches the eye of Philadelphia crime boss Richie Cusack (William Hurt). He believes that Tom is his long-lost brother Joey, a thug renowned for his brutality. Richie sends a crew to Millbrook to confirm that Tom is Joey and, if so, to bring him back to Pennsylvania.

Like a dormant virus, the propensity for violence is hidden until the proper conditions are realized in David Cronenberg’s film. When brought to the surface, the violence is unleashed in rapid bursts of fury. To illustrate the immediacy with which violent impulses are summoned, Cronenberg switches from the film’s restrained pace to quick cuts during the bloodshed.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE posits that such aggressive behavior lurks within everyone but remains masked most of the time. Cronenberg has the characters engage in role-playing in their everyday lives. They behave according to the norms and hierarchy in society, giving the director the chance to explore the purpose artifice and fa├žade serve in personal and community relationships.

Like FAR FROM HEAVEN, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE takes nostalgic ideas of the so-called good old days and exposes the truth of human behavior that such rosy views obscure.

Grade: B+

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