Dark, disturbing and brutally violent, "A History of Violence" is one of this year's few brilliant films so far. Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen, "Violence" is a love it or hate it film that will either draw people in or push them away with odd yet remarkably believable characters and a series of bloodbaths.
A drama mixed with quick bouts of hauntingly realistic "fight" scenes, "A History of Violence" will struggle to find itself respect among mainstream audiences. None of the characters are normal, and most are curiously strange to the point where it's hard to relate with them. Still, there's something about them that makes us care for them, especially Mortensen who plays a loving husband and father but who may or may not be a vicious killer. The contradiction and irony among all the other characters will shut off some people who don't want to think too hard (and honestly, two-thirds of the audience opening night were rejects from the sold-out showing for "Serenity" - me included). Admittedly, the characters do act and look a bit strange at times to the point where things don't quite work, and while the dialogue is pretty good for the most part, there are a few lines thrown in every once in a while that are completely jarring. Still, I was curiously intrigued by the overall package, and by the end mightily impressed.
A contemplation on how violence can not only ruin lives but can be passed on from generation to generation, "A History of Violence" is about a man who innocently defends himself and his friends from two violent robbers - the only problem is that he kills both men with amazingly quickness and accuracy. Soon thereafter, a couple mobsters show up looking for a man by a different name and claim it is he who they are looking for. What unfolds from there is a mystery, character drama and tense thriller all rolled into one, and you never know where the plot is going to take you. I won't say more than that, and I've already said too much; it's best to go into this picture knowing as little about it as possible.
Another turn-off for some audiences is that "A History of Violence" is very slow-paced. Never dull and always tense, Cronenberg has devised a methodical story that keeps building up to its climax and never wavers. Those who are patient will sense the growing tension with each passing moment, but others might get so bored during the first twenty minutes that they'll refuse to accept the rest of the film. Whatever they want to do is their prerogative, but Cronenberg has a mini-masterpiece on his hands here.
And finally, the violence. I won't say anything other than that you should avoid this movie if you have a weak stomach. The deaths in the film are extremely brutal and graphic; let's just say one guy's nose does not survive the film attached to his face.
"A History of Violence" is a smart and incredibly tense drama-thriller. Not everyone will like it, but those who do will realize what a great film this is.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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