Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A History of Violence (2005)

How appropriate that a film about deception should be so formally deceptive. What at first appears to be a quiet familial drama instead mutates (like all things eventually do in the world of David Cronenberg) into a carefully considered essay on violence, cinematic and otherwise. Cronenberg has outwardly abandoned the splattery transformation ethos that characterized his earlier works, but the hallmarks of his obsessions are still there -- he's working with internal evolution now instead of physical evolution. It's about the soul-destroying effects violent acts can have on a man and his life, and Cronenberg's got a hell of an ally here in Viggo Mortensen. Viggo starts off as the perfect family man and ends as quite something else, and his struggle between what he wants to be and what he is comes off beautifully. (Note the subtle shifting of his accent as the film proceeds, among other things.) The more drawn into the spiral of violence, the more conflicted he becomes, until that perfect final shot. (Best close-up of the year, bar none.) That final scene bespeaks to a subversion of typical Hollywood formula (Tom's revenge doesn't make everything all right), and this can be seen also in Cronenberg's envelope-pushing in terms of the depiction of the film's violent acts. Cronenberg has always been a clinical and effective director, and here he utilizes a spare, economical shooting style that exists to be shattered by the one-step-beyond gory inserts that show us what normally gets left out of other films. He's trying to show us the true effects of actions like this and the disruptions they can cause. And speaking of disruptions, it must be noted that the gangsters' disruption of Tom's life is based on, for them, completely justifiable reasons. Tom runs away to escape his past and get himself a piece of the American Dream, only to find it built on blood and frontier justice when his past comes after him. This here be some haunting shit, people.

Grade: A


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