As I see more and more film’s from 2005, I realize that a majority of the best films are those that aren’t huge financial successes. Films like Capote, Munich and now David Cronenberg’s latest film A History of Violence weren’t huge successes but have earned praise due to the themes and stories they present. Containing a well crafted story, with interesting characters, A History of Violence is one of those rare films that you see that has a latest impact on you.
As the film A History of Violence opens up, we met two characters, Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) and Billy Orser (Greg Byrk) who have just come out of a motel apparently killing the two clerks inside. The film then flashes forward and we meet the Stall Family. Father Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Wife Edie (Maria Bello) have two children, teenager Jack (Ashton Holmes) and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Tom runs a small family diner in Indiana that gets steady business. Edie is a lawyer while son Jack hates gym class and is bullied by Bobby Jordan (Kyle Schmid) and daughter Heidi seems to have nightmares about monsters coming out of her closet. The town is very quiet and everyone looks out for each other as Sheriff Sam Carney (Peter MacNeill) informs us.
The following paragraph continues Spoilers. Do not read ahead if you don’t know anything about the film.
One night, both Leland and Billy go into the Stall Diner wanting coffee and some pie. When things start to get violent, Tom suddenly transforms into super hero and kills both Leland and Billy. Tom becomes your local hero with everyone singing praise and wanting to interview him. Tom plays the causal hero trying to avoid a majority of news cameras, wanting his life to just try and get back to a semi-normal state. Naturally due to his exposure, the Stall Diner sees a big increase in business. Enter Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his goons. Carl simply wants some black coffee from Joey Cusack, who he insists is Tom Stall. Carl wants Joey to come back to Philadelphia and see Richie (William Hurt). Tom’s family is perplexed by this Carl character calling Tom by the name of Joey Cusack, which results in Carl following Tom and his family around. What we soon learn is a deep, dark secret that Tom has been trying to keep locked up for some 20 years.
At first glance of the title of the film, one may think that A History of Violence must be some sort of documentary. According to Director David Cronenberg, the title A History of Violence has three levels to it. The first level refers (1) to a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) to the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) to the innate violence of Darwinian evolution, in which better-adapted organisms replace those less able to cope. It seems, on closer examination, that Cronenberg is most interested, at least in the case of this film, in the third level. Cronenberg gives us this character of Tom who has been trying to hide this other character for quite sometime. Tom, not wanting to lose his family or the life he has put together, must overcome this part of his past he has feared. He must do whatever it takes to survive. But then the question arrives in the form of Tom’s son Jack. Jack, who has seen everything first hand, doesn’t know what to believe. Everything his father has told him, up to his point, seems to be a lie. At one point he asks Tom “Do I call you Dad?” Cronenberg probably had Tom have a son so that Tom could learn something from his son. Jack struggles to accept the reality that has been thrown in front of him.
With a short running length of only 96 minutes, Cronenberg is able to successfully craft a story with characters and situations that we want to care about. The film is not necessarily a plot driven film, but rather a character driven film. The film is about characters that have sudden change occur to them and the consequences of how the surrounding characters deal with the sudden change. One of the more powerful scenes is the film’s final shot, which I won’t reveal, but I will say that the scene works due to the subtle tones the scene suggests. With the film A History of Violence, Cronenberg has crafted another fascinating film.
A History of Violence is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1:85:1. The transfer looks nearly flawless. Colors are bright, vibrant, crisp and clear. I suppose the only real fault someone could have with the colors were that some of the night scenes, especially the scene heading toward Richie’s house, had a lot of back scenery that was rather difficult to make out.
We are given a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Track, which sounds just fine. Dialogue was easy to understand, with or without the provided subtitles, while the bigger action scenes came across nice. The overall quality was a bit quiet until the diner scene (the first real action scene), which gave the track a new life. The quick bullets zipped past by ears with a delightful boom from the sub. While a majority was rather subdued and quiet, when action arrived, the audio track delivered with fine quality.
As per many New Line Platinum Series, we’re given many interesting features here that are well worth your time.
- Commentary with Director David Cronenberg: Cronenberg sits down and speaks to us about the film’s themes, direction, production, story, characters and inner meanings. I really appreciated the comments Cronenberg had as most commentaries find the director’s usually just rambling on about this and that with no real set style. Cronenberg kept the same style and really showed that he had a high level of passion and desire when he made the film. This results in a very informative track.
- Acts of Violence: This eight part documentary lasts about an hour and covers just about every little area one would want from a documentary. We hear from Director Cronenberg, Stars Viggo Mortensen and Mario Bello and tons of various Production, Set, and basically everyone that worked on the film. As with the commentary, Cronenberg really goes in depth here discussing the film’s themes, the sets, the actor’s work and devotion into the characters, and the overall message of the film. Like the commentary, this is a fine documentary.
- Violence’s History: US Version vs. International Version: This extremely brief feature details the changes Cronenberg had to make to get a “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
- Too Commercial For Cannes: This feature finds Cronenberg walking us through the various areas of the Cannes Film Festival.
- Deleted Scene: We’re given one deleted Scene entitled “Scene 44” The Deleted Scene mostly focuses on a type of dream sequence between Fogarty and Tom.
- Unmasking Scene 44: This feature goes through the production and filming of the above scene.
- Trailer: Here we’re given the film’s Theatrical Trailer.
There is a sole reason why A History of Violence appeared on over 150 Top Ten Lists for 2005. The reason is because the film is simply excellent. Cronenberg, like many of his other films, presents a story with great characters that really make us think as viewers. The DVD boasts fine picture and audio with some excellent, interesting features. A History of Violence is example of great filmmaking.
Special Features List
- Commentary with Director David Cronenberg
- Acts of Violence
- Too Commercial For Cannes
- Deleted Scene
- Unmasking Scene 44