It’s true that mainstream American cinema has been on the down and out for the last couple of years. Films such as “Exit Wounds,” “Soul Plane” and “Mona Lisa Smile” should have never seen the light of day. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some real quality films, just not enough. It is sad then, that “A History of Violence” will be the scapegoat for all cinematic faults this year.
Let’s take a second and forensically look at the film to see exactly how much potential it had. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, a multiple Academy Award nominee, and William Hurt, an Academy Award winner. Control and direction came from accomplished cult art film director David Cronenberg. Finally, the story comes from the same authors of the graphic novel it is based on, John Wagner and Vince Locke. So why would this seemingly all-star line-up produce something so bland and uninspiring? Keep reading and you will save the eight dollars it will cost to find out.
In all fairness, “A History of Violence” accomplished some good things. Usually comic books don’t transfer to movies very well (see “The Fantastic Four” or “Hellboy”). From reading the graphic novels, however, “A History of Violence” should be commended on capturing the essence of the comic. Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives in a small town. When two criminals come to his even smaller diner and try to rob and murder his customers, Tom suddenly explodes with rage and viciously kills both men. This brings evil characters from his unknown past, in the form of Carl Fogarty (Harris). The scenes of extreme graphic sexuality and grotesque violence are well contrasted with the portrayal of Tom’s otherwise seemingly mundane country life.
An interesting side story is that of Tom’s son, who struggles against the bullies who torment him at his high school. It is apparent that Tom’s son carries the same berserker gene, which over the course of the film is slowly realized in Tom. After the typical intimidation and threats on Tom’s family, there is another graphic shootout and Carl is eliminated. At this point everyone in the movie theatre is scratching their heads and thinking, “Where could this possibly go now?” When Tom explains that he was a mobster who faked his own death to escape his criminal past, his marriage and family quickly fall apart. This scene could have provided some of the better dialogue in the film and fleshed out Tom’s character into someone believable. Instead, the reaction is lifeless and the cardboard acting will have people laughing at the screen. Viggo Mortensen is a good actor, but he is not fit to take on a lead role. Rather than believe that these actors really are just that bad you may begin to think that poor theatrics are being used to achieve some larger symbolic meaning. Just as you’re about to go and get that second refill on your tub-o-popcorn, the film abruptly ends vaguely, leaving a giant question mark over the audience’s collective heads.
The story’s conclusion comes before the audience has time to catch up between shots of full frontal nudity and splattered brains on the diner counter. The film may have been more substantial had they explained Tom’s past. It is called “A History of Violence.” In the end, “A History of Violence” is another mediocre movie in the middle of the low season, a low season which has been going on since 1998’s “Godzilla.” The most we can hope for is that Hollywood agrees not to make a sequel or a remake of this worthless film – ever.