Wednesday, August 22, 2012


(September 2005, U.S.)

You know, sometimes I think there is something seriously wrong with me. I say that because I don't think I've ever been as jacked up and as excited to see men get brutally murdered as I am when Viggo Mortensen's character, Tom Stall, shoots two brutal killers in self defense inside of his own diner in David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I feel that same excitement and enthusiasm half an hour later when his son Jack beats the everloving shit of the high school bully. Like it or not, violence is an exciting cinematic element and I believe it's in our blood to get enthusiastic about when it's done in the right context. By that, I mean, when the bad guys get it.

And so, upon killing two murderous thugs who would seek to do him and his employees harm, Tom Stall is thrust into the local spotlight as an American hero. He doesn't wish this upon himself or his loving family, nor does he wish for what happens afterward when a group of mysterious men lead by Carl Fogarty (played by Ed Harris) arrive in town claiming that Tom Stall is actually Joey Cusack, a man who formerly had dealings with him in the Irish Mob in Philadelphia many years ago. Tom, of course, denies everything but it's not long before the mystery and the questions arise as to why he happens to be so good at killing people. From here, you can probably intelligently guess how things turn out and who triumphs in the end.

Director David Cronenberg is probably best known for his films regarding physical transformations with titles like RABID (1977), VIDEODROME (1983), THE FLY (1986) and NAKED LUNCH (1991), just to name some. In A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, the concept of emotional character transformation is very clear. Tom is a quiet, gentle, family man who is the symbol of pure good in a small mid-western American town. Every man may have a past, sure, but it's quite intruiging to watch this man who loves his wife, his children and his friends turn into something just a little less than human with his violent nature. It's fascinating to watch because it's not so much a transformation into something new that Tom doesn't understand, but rather something Tom used to be and has managed to keep it deeply buried until he's provoked into action.

Violence is part of films and sometimes I dare say it's even enjoyable to watch (anybody paying their ticket price to watch THE EXPENDABLES 2 will likely justify that claim). This film, however, takes the viewer to a level of violence that reminds us that there is a price to pay for it. Not just the price and consequence of committing acts of violence itself, but the long term price a character like Tom Stall/Joey Cusack will pay when his family not only learns who he really was and is, but in how to carry on as family afterward. As Cronenberg shows us in the final scene, sometimes the future can begin with just a simple dinner around the family table.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Tom Stall: "Listen, smart mouth! In this family we do not solve our problems by hitting people!"
Jack Stall: "No, in this family, we SHOOT them!"

1 comment:

  1. I'd just add that this movie features a terrific performance by William Hurt. When Hurt shows up in the film, the tension level is turned up several notches. Ed Harris and Viggio Mortensen did a nice Western atogether a couple of years after this called "Appaloosa." It is a more straightforward story but it does also raise issues of violence and it's just place in society while still providing us with the violence we crave. Harris was the director of this Western.