I wrote this about a year ago, but wanted to share it with you all anyways:
A History of Violence
It’s a pretty standard plot: deranged underworld killer turns his back on his former life, reinvents himself, moves to a small town and raises a family. I’m not against standard plots. I like them. Film, television and literature are full of standard plots—boy falls in love with girl he can’t have, son must confront his father’s murderer, young woman is forced to marry someone she doesn’t love. Nothing wrong with standard plots. It isn’t the plot, it’s the execution. I think that is where A History of Violence falls flat.
Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, and lovingly directed by David Cronenberg, Violence tells the story of small-town diner owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). Stall has everything you would expect a small-town diner owner to have: a beautiful and successful wife (Maria Bello) who dresses up like a cheerleader one night so she and her husband can “be teenagers”; an adorable daughter (Heidi Hayes) who graduated from the Dakota Fanning School of Adorable Daughters; and a quiet, somewhat scrawny son (Ashton Holmes), ready for the role of “geeky best friend” on Fox’s next teen drama. Of course, Tom has a secret past which comes back to haunt him when two killers walk into his diner and threaten his employees and customers. Aragorn snaps into action and does his best Jason Bourne impression, dispatching the ne’er-do-wells with a coffee pot-handgun combo. Hailed as a hero by his beloved small-town neighbors, Tom’s actions draw the attention of someone from his less-than-law-abiding past. Enter Ed Harris, doing his best impression of Captain Ahab and Major Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It seems Harris’ Foggarty is under the impression that Tom is actually Joey Cusack, the Philadelphia hood who took his eye with barbed wire. Tom does his best to convince Harris and his family (and himself, one gets the feeling) that he is not Joey. Where does it go from there? Well, they say “You can’t escape your past” for a reason.
I haven’t read the graphic novel this movie was based on; but, from word-of-mouth, it sounds like a good read. However, a good read does not translate into a good movie—witness every movie ever made from a Michael Crichton novel (well, except The Thirteenth Warrior…that was pretty fucking sweet). A History of Violence moves too slow to be a blood-splattered celebration of mindless violence like Reservoir Dogs. However, it doesn’t take the time to be a true psychological thriller. I never once got the feeling that Tom isn’t Joey. It does have its moment, though. Mostly violent ones. A lot of people get shot. A few just get their faces mashed into chopped meat. One of the best scenes involves Aragorn’s young son going all Fight Club on the high school bully. There’s also a rather unsavory staircase love/rape scene, which (I assume) is used as a heavy-handed way to juxtapose the Stalls’ earlier playful lovemaking with their new post-Joey existence. And, although Mortensen seems equally uncomfortable playing small-town nice guy as he does playing ruthless killer, both Harris and William Hurt (in an Oscar-nominated role as Joey’s older brother, Richie Cusack) seem to be enjoying every minute of screen time, which in Hurt’s case adds up to about 15 minutes. Hurt’s Richie is one of the most wasted characters in recent history. He manages to be creepy, somewhat psychologically unstable and physically imposing, so much so as to make you wonder how he let Gary Oldman screw with his family in Lost in Space. Are these bright spots worth watching the entire film? Maybe…maybe not. On the up side, Violence isn’t that long, so by the time you start getting bored Harris is there to keep things mildly interesting, at least until Hurt appears.
Me? I’d rather watch Get Carter or The Long Good Friday.