History of Violence
The title of David Cronenberg’s latest film feels
ironic considering the director’s filmography, although
it is doubtful that it is intended to be.
latest effort, based on the graphic novel of the same name
written by John Wagner with art by Vince Locke, is not merely
an adaptation, but more a contemplative dissertation on
violence as it resides in our genetic heritage, our pasts,
and most importantly our individual futures.
plot is simple enough, centering on a mild-mannered family
man named Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). Tom owns a diner
in town called Stall’s Diner, and lives a relatively
quiet life with his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and their two
children Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Altogether,
life is good for the Stalls, they are well known by the
townsfolk and live day to day in relative home-spun bliss.
is the only Stall who seems to suffer initially, and most
of his struggles equate to High School awkwardness and growing
pains. At breakfast Jack explains to his father that he
dislikes P.E. class, specifically softball, to which Tom
tries his best to comfort and console his son. In a moment
of triumph, Jack manages to field a game-winning catch,
which happened to belong to a bully in his gym class which
results in Jack being pushed around and called all sorts
of names in the locker room.
this egregious behavior, Jack diffuses the scenario with
humor and wit, narrowly avoiding a potentially violent situation.
In essence, Jack does what he feels is right, and manages
to come out on top temporarily.
night, while closing up the diner, Tom is confronted by
two very insistent ne’er do wells thirsting for coffee,
and perhaps more. Guns are pulled, lives are threatened,
and Tom springs into action, brutally slaying his attackers
and saving his life along with those of his employees in
a fell swoop. Tom’s heroics make him the talk of the
town and a media celebrity in a blink of an eye, and before
long a new set of characters begin lurking around town and
Tom specifically. Tom makes for a bashful interview, insisting
that the sooner this thing blows over the better while claiming
that anyone would have done as he did in such a situation.
confronted by the nefariously mangled Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris)
in the diner the next day, Tom is stunned to be persistently
referred to as Joey, a name he insists is not his. Carl
believes that Tom is a man named Joey Cusack, a mob thug
from Philadelphia, and this “Tom” persona is
merely a guise to afford Joey a chance to start over.
poses a problem for Tom, who insists that he is not who
Carl claims he is, yet the strain begins to show as the
family, Edie and Jack specifically, begin to question the
sudden changes in Tom’s behavior and demeanor. Whether
or not Tom is who Carl claims him to be is an interesting
predicament to ponder, but the real brilliance of this tale
stems from Cronenberg’s analysis of violence and duality
of man, two themes he has championed in his work from day
not interested in spoilers should likely leave this review
adaptation is painted in shades of subtle brilliance. This
is, hands down, the director’s most accessible work
since 1986’s The Fly. Cronenberg continues
to churn out amazingly well crafted tales that dip into
the remotely bizarre and intriguingly realistic.
performance is compelling, and the look and feel of small
town life is utterly simplistic yet believable throughout.
Maria Bello shines as Tom’s concerned and devoted
wife, and she develops Edie in very subtle movements as
the events start to ratchet up to suspicious levels of tension.
Ed Harris turns in a chilling turn as the gnarled face thug
Carl, a man so seemingly supernatural that his fate comes
as a shock.
yet certainly of note, is William Hurt’s surprise
turn late in the third act of the film. To divulge his name
or character’s motivation would be a disservice to
the film itself, but to put it plainly, this is a side of
Hurt that has never been exposed before on camera, both
humorous and odd wrapped up in an appetite for danger.
along, Cronenberg examines violence here in interesting
subtleties. An early act session of intimacy is depicted
in long shot, almost uncomfortably natural and earnest while
invoking the feeling of near voyeurism although never stooping
to mere exploitation. This sequence is wholesome, even if
the content is raw and distinct. This sequence is paralleled
in the later acts with another session of intimacy, this
time following certain revelations regarding Tom’s
past. This time passion is not delicate and nurturing, but
instead a flurry of pushing and pulling, restrained force
with a grippingly dark edge. The contrast is too distinct
to be missed.
sequence of note comes in Jack’s arc, in which a second
confrontation with his High School bully comes to an entirely
different conclusion than first witnessed prior to Tom’s
encounter in the diner. Tom clings to his ideals, despite
being able to repress his inner “Joey,” a raucous
killer capable of doing that which the meek Tom is incapable
of doing. Without Joey, Tom was doomed to perish that fateful
night, just as without the emergence of Joey, Jack would
have continued along his passive course of dealing with
of violence? Hardly. Cronenberg never stoops to glorifying
the bloody and grotesque conflicts his characters encounter.
Instead, he seems to be raising the questions: Is a violent
nature able to be curbed? What is worse: attempting to atone
for sins passed, or never having sinned at all? Are we forever
judged by our past, or do our actions in the present make
any difference in this judgment?
History of Violence intends to pose, not answer, questions
such as these in regard to individuals and humanity as a
whole. The film succeeds, and leaves us with yet another
brilliant Cronenberg vehicle to mull over and reflect upon.