I first saw A History of Violence at the cinema in 2005. This wasn’t because it was the latest David Cronenberg film but was rather because the nineteen year old me thought it would be cool to see the new film “with that Lord of the Rings guy in it”. I’ve changed substantially in the last seven years and have since grown to love film but for me what was great about the film on my first naive viewing is still great but unfortunately what is poor, remains so. The film was released to universal critical acclaim but for me at least it is nowhere close to Cronenberg’s best work.
Tom Stall (That guy off of The Lord of the Rings) is a mild mannered diner owner in a small town in Indiana. He has close ties to the community and a loving family which includes his wife (Maria Bello), son (Ashton Holmes) and young daughter (Heidi Hayes). One day two crooks come to town and try to rob Tom’s diner but after fending them off in an act of self defence Tom gains a little local celebrity. This attracts the attentions of East Coast gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harri) who seems convinced that quiet, shy Tom is a former gangster called Joey.
I still quite enjoyed the first half of the film, despite having seen it before and knowing what to expect. The plot was well set up and Viggo Mortensen plays Tom extremely well. The first time I saw the film I didn’t expect the ending we got and I believe that is largely down to the writing and Mortensen’s performance. There is a turning point following a long drive that I had absolutely no recollection of whatsoever and I couldn’t remember a single thing after a sex scene on the stairs. My girlfriend with her super female memory was also unable to remember any of it either. I think this may be because the film didn’t really engage us. I remember when we saw it all those years ago, my female lady partner didn’t like it and she still didn’t enjoy it the second time around. I personally liked some aspects of the film very much but overall thought it was a bit dull.
One area in which the film is very successful is in its graphic depictions of violence. As the title would suggest, this is a violent film but rather than being so from the outset and maintaining it throughout, it dishes out the bloodshed is short, sharp busts which can often catch you off guard. The physical effects are very convincing and very much on the gory side, showing Cronenberg hasn’t completely forgotten his roots. The film is also notable for containing a couple of fairly graphic sex scenes. Something which I just found out today is that the film was cut in two versions for European and American audiences. Being European I was lucky to see the slightly more gruesome version which features greater blood gushing and more pronounced bone crunching sound. It’s surprising that the film was cut for its US release as I would have assumed that the country that makes the likes of Saw, the majority of the world’s pornography and apparently has a gun under every other pillow wouldn’t mind a bit of bone crushing or throat stamping.
Once the big reveal is over around the half way mark the film starts to sag. I didn’t think it ever reached the heights of the scene outside Tom’s house and although the penultimate scene was action packed and exhilarating I’d already half switched off by that point. The film is often underplayed which although helping to create a realistic world, sometimes bored me. It is littered with excellent performances with Mortensen, Ed Harris and Ashton Holmes standing out but isn’t a film which I’d bother watching again and if it wasn’t for the director’s esteem I doubt I would have gone back to reassess in the first place.