"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Brace yourselves! Vern reviews Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE!!!

SPOILER ALERT !!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our own Vern who tells ya’ straight about David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, a film I was scheduled to see last night, but I ended up sneaking into a test screening for a much anticipated horror flick instead. I figured I can see HISTORY OF VIOLENCE much sooner than I’d see this other film, so I ditched out of the screening. I’m dying to see it, though!

Now Vern’s review doesn’t go into any deep spoilers, but he talks about a little bit of stuff not in the trailer, so I went ahead and smacked a spoiler warning for the purists out there. As always, Vern did a bang-up job and wrote a piece that had me laughing along. Enjoy!

Harry and friends,

First of all Moriarty, to finish up that debate we were having over in your talkback, porn is not boring. At least not if you’re jerkin off to it. And if you’re not jerkin off to it you’re not giving the picture the respect it deserves. That’s like doing a crossword puzzle during a subtitled movie and then saying the movie didn’t make any sense. I know Alberto Gonzales recently declared a “war on porn” one of the administration’s highest priorities, but don’t write off the merits of hardcore porn without giving it a fair chance. Let’s show some class here, bud. That’s first of all. Second of all, I got a review of David (JASON X) Cronenberg’s excellent new picture A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE starring Viggo Mortensen.

A History of ViolenceThis is basically a smart thriller, a simple one, nothing complicated, no crazy twists. It’s short and sweet although it moves at a somewhat deliberate pace (which is code for “some assholes will say it’s too slow but they’re wrong”). This is pretty much the most “normal” movie Dave Cronenberg has ever made. But it’s intense, intelligent and serious so it doesn’t feel like some kind of sellout movie. Just a rare moment where the guy is working on a wavelength that normal humans might be able to relate to. I’m sure his next movie will have vaginas growing out of people’s arms and machines made out of tongues and crap like that and you and I will enjoy it but I think it’s nice that once every ten or fifteen years he is willing to invite the rest of the neighborhood in for a show. Just tell them it’s the guy that did THE FLY and DEAD ZONE. But this one is less weird. Actually tell them it’s HIDALGO.

If you saw the trailer you pretty much know the first part of this movie: Viggo is Tom Stall, a family man in a small town, runs his own diner, beloved by the community, etc. Then one day some drifters try to rob him, he jumps over the counter and blows their fuckin heads off, etc. This makes him a local hero and media sensation, but you know, you don’t get moves like that from pouring coffee. That’s clear to Ed (KNIGHTRIDERS) Harris, a mobster from Philadelphia who shows up at the diner sporting a creepy fucked up eye and calling Tom “Joey.” I like Ed Harris, like in that Alex Cox movie WALKER. So I forgive him for stalking poor Tom and his family, seeking retribution on behalf of that fucked up left eye.

So you got a good suspense story about how Tom is gonna deal with these thugs that insist he’s Joey from Philly. But then it gets even better when it becomes clear to everybody that he really is Joey from Philly. This is kind of a problem because he probaly shoulda filled in his wife and kids on all this. So they don’t take it that well.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s the same thing I was thinking. I thought this was gonna be a complete history of violence, starting with a caveman beating some guy with a conch shell or something, and ending with some shit that went down in an alley somewhere earlier today. So the title may be misleading to some of us but it is a good double meaning type title. Literally, Viggo has a history of violent acts, but also it is indeed an exploration of attitudes toward different types of violence. You got your self defense, your revenge, your punishing kids, your rough sex. Tom has all these things inside him in the form of Joey, but he really wants to leave them behind. So in a way this is a second cousin of one of my favorite types of movies, the “I’m a pacifist and I hate violence but jesus I really gotta kill this fucker” movie. (Think UNFORGIVEN, BILLY JACK, much of the Seagal ouvre, etc.) But I think it is a little more serious about the pacifism than those movies usually are. You can tell because it doesn’t brag about it. He never has to say out loud that he’s against violence.

This movie has the same dilemma that DANNY THE DOG UNLEASHED had. As compassionate human beings you’re rooting for this guy not to have to resort to violence, but as a moviegoer you’re rooting for him to break a motherfucker’s neck. This is no action movie but there were 3 or more scenes in here that had the audience cheering loudly as some fucker got what he, you know, deserved. And come to think of it that’s part of Cronenberg’s point I think.

For me this movie worked on every level. Great job by Cronenberg and the dude who wrote it (best known for his work as art department production assistant on MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE). But the real highlight is Viggo Mortensen in what is in my opinion the best performance in his career so far. Which is saying alot because this dude is always great. There’s no show offy overacting so he probaly doesn’t have to clear any space for an oscar. I mean he’s not playing a retarded math genius or nothin. He does get stabbed in the foot but I don’t think that counts as being disabled. Anyway he is great as this quiet, timid guy who, if you push him real hard, will take the gun out of your hand and break your nose with it. But he’d rather not. He gives the character much more humanity and dimension than somebody else would’ve.

About ten minutes into the screening, some lady asked out loud “What is this guy from?” So if anybody else is wondering, he is the guy from CARLITO’S WAY. Also, I don’t know if any nerds read this web sight or not but he was in RETURN OF THE KING. You’ll notice him, he plays the guy who is returning. So that is what he is known for but after this movie I think many women will remember him as the ruggedly handsome man of their dreams who enjoys going down on his wife. There’s a couple sex scenes in here that mix it up from the usual Hollywood formula. A certain hilarious two digit number is paid tribute to for example. And there’s no candles or Santana songs.

William Hurt is in here too, not sure if he is generous in bed or not, they don’t make that clear. But he is hilarious. This is a grim movie but there are some good laughs every once in a while. By Cronenberg standards, it’s fuckin AIRPLANE!.

Fans of Cronenberg’s movies will notice alot of little allusions to his greatest works. For example, tell me that opening scene doesn’t remind you of some of the shit that sicko pulled in NIGHTBREED. And there are many cold-blooded mobster/hitman type characters reminiscent of his character “Man by Lake” in TO DIE FOR. I didn’t notice any references to THE STUPIDS but I’m gonna have my eyes peeled for that if I see the movie again.

Also it’s apparently based on a comic book, so you guys are gonna like it. It is alot like Batman, Snoopy, etc. The one and only problem I had was in the very end (spoiler) when a Top Gun type jet made out of human skin flew down and vomited a bunch of phallises onto Viggo and he moaned in erotic pleasure as some creepy she-males gave him gratuitous reconstructive surgery. But I mean you know how Cronenberg is. He loves that kind of shit.

Actually I’m just bullshitting, that doesn’t happen in THIS movie. Or does it? There’s really no way to know until you see it on Friday.

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/21373

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2005 at 6:00 am and is filed under AICN, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Brace yourselves! Vern reviews Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE!!!”

  1. There’s so much more going on here.

    The narrative of A History of Violence is deliberately simplistic. My ongoing attempt to describe and expound on its many meanings is not. I’m working on thousands of words with that beast. Someday it will make sense. Here’s a micro-snippet that touches on my favorite part of the film, the perfect scene, the scene that had my brain overheating with desire to describe to the world how amazing it is. It was as if Shakespeare had let me sit in on the first dress rehearsal of Macbeth, and then, watching the new masterpiece like an attentive monk in the front row, I became the first to comprehend the nature of Macbeth’s cyclical story, the significance of the number 3, the defiance of natural order in the play with verb tenses, and so on.

    The final scene of AHOV, right after the jet made out of human skin flew down and vomited a bunch of phallises onto Viggo and he moaned in erotic pleasure as some creepy she-males gave him gratuitous reconstructive surgery, is a masterpiece. The narrative offers no indication of the exact direction it is taking toward its denouement and resolution, yet, clearly, Cronenberg and his creative team are in full control of what they want to convey here in the last couple minutes of the film. The editing, pacing, mise-en-scene, acting, and seamless simplicity of a quiet, ambiguous scene lead to a devastating ending shot.

    The warrior-citizen returns home to his family, with blood on his hands and an explanation owed to the family he endangered and protected. He deceived them and thought it best to protect them from his deception. When his history of violence caught up to him, he lied. He denied. When he had no choice, he exposed them to his explosively violent capacity to kill. His persona as gentle family man is exposed as a calculated façade, though he is genuine in his commitment to small town American values. He briefly abandoned them and his family in order to protect them from his old life and his new enemies.

    This good man—- this lover, father, and town pillar, respected and admired by seemingly everyone in their respectable, admirable world—- is as dangerous as the monsters who attacked him. Is he guilty, though? Is he deserving of forgiveness? His children set his place at the dinner table and offer a plate. His wife appears unsure; she is not ready to accept him back into her life while his violent exploits are as fresh in her memory & in her perception of him as the wounds are on his body & the corpses he left “back East” are in their distant final resting place. (He didn’t even consult her before he took off in the middle of the night for Philly.) Their children, however, are the representatives of the future generation, and they are already grateful for his efforts.

    However, they are children. What do they know? They have little choice but to readmit him back into their lives. Does that make their choice a morally proper one? Will the father’s sins be visited upon the children?

    Now, let’s play plug-in (which is an inexact, subjective exercise, so don’t expect a perfect magic formula to appear) and maybe you’ll see why my mind is blown by this movie:

    **The [US foreign policy maker] returns home to his [nation], with blood on [Cheney’s/W’s/Colin Powell’s] hands and an explanation owed to the [nation] he endangered and protected. He deceived them [& the UN] and thought it best to protect them from his deception. When his history of [arming future enemies and looking the other way from the bad behavior of foreign dickheads] caught up to him, he lied. He denied. When he [claimed] had no choice, he exposed them to his explosively violent capacity to kill. His persona as [peaceful, cooperative nation] is exposed as a calculated façade, though he is genuine in his commitment to small town American values. He briefly abandoned them and his family [and the wisdom of the IAEA, etc.] in order to protect them from his old [policies] and his new enemies [of cheap oil].

    This good [nation]—- this [philanthropist], [mentor], and [world] pillar, respected and admired by seemingly everyone in their respectable, admirable world—- is as dangerous as the monsters who [allegedly] attacked him. Is he guilty, though? Is he deserving of forgiveness? His children [benefactors of a world with hopefully fewer Islamofascist radical extremists] set his place at the dinner table and offer a plate. [The Coalition of the Willing and Americans who read the newspaper] appear unsure; she is not ready to accept him back into her life while his violent exploits are as fresh in her memory & in her perception of him as the wounds are on his body & the corpses he left “back East” are in their distant final resting place. (USA didn’t even figure out how much these wars would cost before taking off for Osamaland and then Baghdad.) Their children, however, are the representatives of the future generation, and they are already grateful for his efforts.

    However, they are children. What do they know? They have little choice but to readmit him back into their lives. Does that make their choice a morally proper one? Will the father’s sins be visited upon the children? [Are we Americans safer now than we were 10 years ago?]

  2. – mouth

    Thanks a bunch, that was a good read. I`ll keep it in mind next time I watch it.

  3. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break.
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  4. Vern— Much as we are not quite bestest pals, I implore you to employ [I like the way that phrase rolled out] Clubside to rid the site of these pesky spambots once & for all. They’re taking up valuable space better filled by Griff’s eternal reconciliation with his current Youth In Progress, Mr. M’s quest for Perfect Online Articulation, Mr. S’s Cool Jazz Aside stylings, Crusty cutting through it all with Laser Precision, RRA being a perfect synthesis of Misters M & S, with a dash of Crusty for flavor.

    All other regulars remain undefined. Including me.

    See?… I TOLD ya’ll I was an unlicensed psychologist. More Sean Maguire then Hannibal Lecter, though I can go either way. But here Mort calls Orson.

    Anyway, please take note and get rid of these fuckers. I can thwart them accordingly when they arrive with that “All our base are belong to us” Asian misappropriation of the English language… but these recent dudes I cannot rebut.

  5. “Griff’s eternal reconciliation with his current Youth In Progress”

    what exactly does that mean?

  6. [Damn, I just KNEW you’d be the first one to jump on this train]…

    … and I don’t intend that in a mean/naughty way. It MEANS you seem to be often looking for definition of your own youth in juxtaposition to the older people who post here regular, rather than just wallowing in your youth, cutting loose, and then reflecting back upon it (months, years?) later and wondering “Was I correct and headed towards wise, or just an idiot punk?”.

    Between Old Farts who weighed in on this, I favor the homestylin’ Ecclesiates (“Rejoice, oh young man, in thy youth!”) over the pimpdoggin’ George Bernard Shaw (“Youth is wasted on the young”).

    Griff, you’re at a point in your life when you (IMO) should be living in the moment, rather that be reflecting upon any of those moments. Just sayin’, hoss.

  7. I’m pretty sure I achieved Perfect Online Articulation like five years ago when I said that Christian Bale’s Batman voice sounded “like Corey Feldman trying to sound grown-up in THE LOST BOYS.” It’s been a slow, inevitable downslide into Jack Reacher rants and inexplicable PACIFIC RIM hatred ever since.

  8. But seriously, Griff, let go of the 90s and go out, do two kinds of intoxicants at the same time, make out in public with somebody weird-looking, and dance like you don’t have vomit on your shoes. You’re only young once. #yoyo

  9. BTW, there is ONE key moment in this film that has yet to be pointed out here, and it’s a beauty:

    Viggo, standing on the lawn of his Iowa (I think it’s Iowa) home, trying to talk down Ed Harris’s character, attempting to steer him away, denying to admit to who he [Viggo] really used to be, and Ed being Ed Playing The Casual Baddie (magnificent, as usual) doesn’t back down for shit.

    Maybe it’s testament to Ed Harris’s complete authority as an actor, or the way the script meanders accordingly, but… there’s this very casual/transitional/significant moment when Viggo’s character finally lets down his guard and non-verbally admits “Yeah— I AM Joey; I’m the mob guy you’ve been looking for”, and the whole film shifts into its third act.

    All on the strength of Viggo’s prowess as an actor. It doesn’t get any better.

  10. Mr. M— For fuck’s sake, man! Be the [REDACTED] version of Robin Vs. Griff’s potential Corey Feldman Dark Knighted After Two Packs Of Marlboro Reds, As Many Hookers, An Eight-Ball & A Bottle Of JD #7 fun weekend.

    He needs guidance.

  11. Mr. M – “But seriously, Griff, let go of the 90s”

    I try man, I try to accept that it’s the 2010s, I try to look on the bright side of the modern day (of which I admit there are a few) and sometimes I feel like I can move on, then I start looking at 90’s movie posters on impawards or something and I’m right back at it, like a junkie falling off the wagon

    nostalgia is to me what coffee is to most people, it keeps me going

  12. Larry: The film is set in Indiana. I can’t remember the name of the small town, but it’s one that doesn’t actually exist here that I know of. Could be wrong on this, but I think they transposed the name of the town they were shooting in Ontario onto it.

  13. It looks like it was Millbrook, which is apparently just down the road from Pontypool. Crossover time!

  14. Somebody Weird-Looking

    December 17th, 2013 at 8:12 am

    You come anywhere near me, Griff, and I’ll knee you in the groin.

  15. Pay no mind, Griffter. Got your ATM card, honey?

  16. He’s mine, all mine. Fuck off you other decades. Me and Griff are gonna watch Cool As Ice and smooch.

  17. I tapped that ass.

  18. Yeah, Griff, drop that zero and get with the hero.

  19. THERE IS NO GRIFF ONLY ZUUL.

  20. Being a 70s and 80’s man myself, I have to support Griff (or ZUUL)!

  21. hooray! my stalker is back! I was wondering what happened to him/her/it, how are you, buddy?

  22. gone silent again have ya?

  23. I just watched this over the weekend. Wow, Viggo was incredible. I know, I know, in other shocking news, that show Seinfeld is pretty funny. But, still. Viggo just blew me away with how he was able to go from small town regular Joe to mafia hitman with hardly any difference in how he played the guy. It was totally just something in his eyes. How can actors do that?!

    I’d be interested in hearing what others thought of that ending, since we don’t have much of a discussion going on this one. I know it was supposed to be left ambiguous, but I honestly have no idea what their future holds. I want to say that they work things out, because I’m an optimist, but I don’t honestly know if there was enough there to be able to come to that conclusion.

  24. Viggo has a couple facial expressions in this that just impress the shit out of me. Like, when he’s looking at his kid after the fight on the front lawn. I’ve never seen a face do that. I don’t even know what emotion it’s supposed to be conveying, but it’s conveying the shit out of it whatever it is. Probably like seven conflicting feelings all at once, like pride, anger, intimidation, confusion, and some perverse glee at finally letting his family see the real him, while also being ashamed of it. The shot lasts three seconds. Been thinking about it for ten years.

    Who won the Best Actor Oscar that year? And how does he sleep at night?

  25. I’m totally with you on that expression. I, too, don’t know what it’s conveying, I just know I don’t ever want it directed at me. Even if it’s not ill willed, it is too intense.

  26. Mr. M: Philip Seymour Hoffman for CAPOTE won that year.

  27. Well, I certainly wish I’d known that before I made that joke.

  28. Well, if we’re doing this, can we talk about the completely fucking out there performance William Hurt gives here? It seems like an intentionally comic performance, but…. why?? It’s such a bizarre contrast with Viggo’s constrained intensity and Ed Harris’s earlier malevolence. I could never figure out what Cronenberg and Hurt were going for with that. Everything about the script seems to suggest we should feel intimidated by him, but he seems like such a goofball that Viggo just walks all over him. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it’s definitely a real sudden shift in tone.

  29. Man, I love love Hurt in that role. I went from considering him one of the blandest character actors around, a guy functionally indistinguishable from his fellow doughy honky John Heard, and then he does this shit and MR. BROOKS pretty much back to back and I’m like, “Jesus, buddy, have you had all this mega wasting away in your basement all this time? What the fuck were you waiting for?” He hasn’t really fulfilled the promise I saw in him in those two performances but they really turned me around on what he’s capable of.

    I consider HISTORY OF VIOLENCE a comedy, though, so your mileage may vary.

    I have also softened on John Heard, mostly because I watched C.H.U.D. while I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life and I think my poor fever-addled brain thinks me and him actually went through that shit side by side. So we’re like battle brothers, John Heard and me. We fought C.H.U.D.s and the flu together. You don’t forget something like that.

  30. I wondered about Hurt’s Amish beard. What was the reasoning behind that choice? Maybe his weird, comic turn was about the fact that he was insulated in this world where he was a big cheese and had no context about how normal people behave because no one told him he was being fucking weird. Maybe another aspect of Vern’s supposition that the movie is covering all different kinds of violence – when your world is all about violence it warps you. I dunno.

    Majestyk, I had the flu back when THE RING came out on video, so there were a ton of commercials about it. I had seen it in the theater and it didn’t really scare me, but then I had fever dreams about it and I don’t think I could watch it again.

  31. Love this film. Agree with the other comments: Viggo is a master at communicating complex and subtle emotions with his physicality and nonverbals. Each of the many macho pissing contest scenes is just a gem. In particular, that early shootout in the diner were that dude gets his blown off is just such classic Cronenberg ugliness. Swift, brutal and cringe-inducing. This and the Road are a couple of my favorite films of the past 10 years. Viggo’s a bawse.

  32. face…blown off

  33. Hurt was supposedly David Cronenberg’s first choice for his TOTAL RECALL btw.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it but nearly everything is still quite memorable to me. There’s something kind of cool about Cronenberg seemingly going outside of the kind of thing he was known for, and applying what he’d known to what is almost a modern Western to some degree. For me it’s too bad that he hasn’t returned to doing another crime film since EASTERN PROMISES (especially since there was talk of a sequel).

  34. I would love to see a sequel to EASTERN PROMISES. That was one of those movies that I think back on often and wonder what happened next.

  35. Well, we can blame Focus/Universal for putting the kibosh on that once they decided to house crappy studio fare instead of more independent flavor.

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